To play or not is tricky question for injured players


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Injured Penguins forwards Evgeni Malkin, Joe Vitale and Chris Conner skated hard and in full gear with team strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar before practice Friday at Southpointe.

It seems unlikely, however, that any of the three will play in the team's final regular-season games this weekend, today against Philadelphia and Sunday against Ottawa, both at Consol Energy Center.

It was thought that Malkin, the second-line center who has 72 points in 60 games, might be back before the playoffs, which begin next week. Sunday will mark three weeks since he got hit in the right foot by a puck in a game against St. Louis.

"More important is the health of the player than to play a game," coach Dan Bylsma said.

Bylsma noted that defenseman Paul Martin has benefited from playing the past four games after being out because of a broken hand, and likewise for defenseman Kris Letang, who returned Wednesday after being out following a stroke.

That does not mean Malkin necessarily will get a chance for a tuneup before the postseason.

"If [the best thing] is rest to get ready for the playoffs, then that will be it," Bylsma said. "If we get an opportunity to get him back in a game, we'll take it. But we're not going to rush it back just to get him that 60 minutes of hockey."

Special teams prove special

For a long stretch this season, the Penguins led all NHL teams in power-play and penalty-killing success rates before slipping slightly.

Going into Friday, they were second in penalty killing (85.8 percent), despite going 12 for 12 over the past four games, but they had clawed their way back from second to first on the power play (23.7 percent), thanks to going 4 for 10 over the past four games after a four-game stretch in which the power play was 0 for 14.

If they finish first on the power play, it will be just the second time in club history. The 1995-96 Penguins, with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, led the league with a team-record 26 percent success rate.

Finishing with the best power play this season isn't a high priority.

"Nobody's going to get a trophy for finishing first," Bylsma said, although he added that the Penguins have reached special-teams goals they set going into the season.

Center Sidney Crosby believes it is less about where the power play ranks and more about how it looks.

"At this point, it's more [about] just doing the right things," he said. "Whether that puts you in first or doesn't, you want to feel good about your power play -- and scoring usually does that.

"That being said, we have to know that playoffs are tighter. If you look at the playoff power-play percentage of teams that win the Cup, it's not even close to what it is in the regular season. [It's about] just being patient, doing the right things and knowing that the timing of when you score is also important, making sure you're aware of that."

400 and counting

Bylsma, 43, will coach his 400th game today. He is 252-117-30, all with the Penguins, and is approaching his total of 429 games played in the league with Los Angeles and Anaheim.

"I didn't know it was 400. I guess longevity is a good thing," Bylsma said, then smiled. "That doesn't mean I'm fully vested as a coach, but 400, 500, I'll keep going."

Only Eddie Johnston has coached more Penguins games (516), and no one has led the team to more victories than Bylsma.

Vokoun wins in return

Goaltender Tomas Vokoun, on a conditioning assignment in the American Hockey League, made 23 saves through regulation and overtime and stopped all four shots he faced in a shootout in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's 3-2 win at Syracuse.

It was the first game of the season for Vokoun, who had a blood clot dissolved in September, spent four months on blood-thinners and has been practicing for weeks.


Penguins top-line left winger Chris Kunitz left practice about halfway through. Bylsma said it was "an excused absence ... not an injury." ... The Penguins recalled forward Harry Zolnierczyk from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Zolnierczyk has played in 11 games with the NHL Penguins, scoring two goals. ... The Penguins re-assigned forward Adam Payerl to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Shelly Anderson:, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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