Penguins face Devils without Malkin
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Dating to last summer, the Penguins had a plan for their top three forwards, but it requires all three to be in the lineup at the same time.
That hardly has happened, and, tonight in a game at New Jersey, the team will be down to one of those three, center Jordan Staal.
All-Star winger/center Evgeni Malkin did not practice Wednesday and did not travel with the Penguins to Newark because of what is believed to be a leg injury, perhaps more problems with his left knee.
He will be out at least until doctors determine the exact nature and extent of the injury.
"We don't know if it's going to be a day or if it's going to be through the All-Star break or what," coach Dan Bylsma said.
The All-Star weekend is Jan. 28-30 at Carolina, and already one of the Penguins' four All-Stars, center Sidney Crosby, is iffy.
Game: Penguins at New Jersey Devils, 7:08 p.m. today, Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), http://penguins.nhl.com.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Martin Brodeur for Devils.
Penguins: Have won 3 games in row. ... Have best road penalty kill (90.6 percent). ... Chris Kunitz has 3 goals, 1 assist in past 4 games.
Devils: Are 2-10 within Atlantic Division. ... Patrik Elias has 3 goals, 8 points in past 8 games. ... Last in NHL at 1.96 goals per game.
Of note: Before Chris Conner's winning goal Tuesday against Detroit, Penguins had gone 0 for 12 on penalty shots, dating to January 2007.
Crosby, the NHL's leading scorer with 66 points, will miss his seventh game tonight because of a concussion.
Malkin, third on the team in goals (15) and points (37), apparently got hurt on a hit in the 3-2 win Saturday at Boston.
He practiced Monday and played Tuesday in a 4-1 win against Detroit, although his ice time was reduced to 15 minutes, 50 seconds.
Malkin missed a game Nov. 1 because of a bruised left knee, then sat out four games in early December because of problems with the same knee. He wore a brace at least for a while after that.
The Penguins recalled center Dustin Jeffrey from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the game tonight.
Crosby, Malkin and Staal have been the team's top three centers the past four seasons, but the Penguins planned to break that up some this season by promoting Staal to second-line center and shifting Malkin to right wing on that line.
Staal missed the first 39 games of the season, however, because of a foot infection and then a broken hand.
The three big-name forwards played in the same game just twice before Crosby left the lineup because of a concussion.
There is no timetable for his return.
"We're hoping [Staal] has some good food [Wednesday night] and can play in the game [tonight]," Bylsma cracked.
Bylsma did not reveal how he will reconfigure his lines, but it is likely that Staal's line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy will anchor the offense.
Those three made up one of the best third lines in the NHL the past couple of seasons.
They were reunited recently after Bylsma decided that keeping Staal and Malkin together with Crosby out of the lineup made things too top-heavy.
Malkin had moved into Crosby's spot on the top line between wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. Rookie Mark Letestu is a candidate to take over the center spot on that line.
"It's going to be a bit of a challenge," Bylsma said. "Mark Letestu's going to have to play a bigger role, Chris Conner, lots of guys are going to have to play some more minutes to fill the void of the 20 minutes and the position that [Malkin] plays for us."
Malkin is averaging 20:09 of ice time and plays on the top power-play unit.
Letestu and Staal are expected to play on the No. 1 power-play unit tonight, something both have done recently, though usually not together. Kunitz will man his usual spot in front of the net.
"The second unit's going to be the different-looking one," Bylsma said.
The forwards on the No. 2 power-play unit likely will include Jeffrey, Mike Rupp in front of the net and another player.
Rupp has spent some time in that role early in the season and in the win Tuesday against Detroit.
"We're going to have to play someone else in there who's unaccustomed to playing in those positions," Bylsma said.
The Penguins can be expected to work on that at their morning skate today in New Jersey.
Malkin, 24, is a past NHL scoring champion, playoff MVP and finalist for regular-season MVP. He is having a subpar season in terms of production, although there have been stretches of strong games.
With Crosby out, Malkin was on the spot to help pick up some of the slack. He has just three points, all assists, in the six games Crosby has missed but has 22 shots in those games and has made several other noticeable plays, such as intercepting opponent passes to create chances.
Now, at least for one game, the burden falls on Staal. He had no points in his first five games but has three goals, six points in the three since.