Malkin could return for Penguins against Capitals on Thursday

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CRANBERRY, Pa. — Evgeni Malkin could return to the lineup for the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Washington Capitals on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, TVAS, NBCSWA, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).

The center, who has missed 21 games with a lower-body injury, will travel for a four-game road trip. He took part in full contact in practice Wednesday after wearing a no-contact jersey in a morning skate April 20 and at practice April 23.

“When ‘Geno’ does come back into our lineup, then obviously, it gives us more options to do different things with the groups that we have,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

If Malkin doesn’t play Thursday, he could practice Friday and return at Washington on Saturday. After Friday, Pittsburgh does not have another full practice scheduled until May 7.

The Penguins are 14-5-2 since Malkin was injured in a 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on March 16. Pittsburgh (32-15-3) is second in the eight-team MassMutual East Division, one point behind Washington and nine points ahead of the fifth-place New York Rangers. The top four teams qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Malkin scored 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) in 29 games.

After acquiring forward Jeff Carter in a trade on April 12, general manager Ron Hextall said he expected Malkin, who was week to week, to return before the end of the regular season; the Penguins’ last scheduled game is at home against the Buffalo Sabres on May 8.

Malkin took part in power-play drills Wednesday, being used on each unit. On the top unit, he replaced forward Jared McCann, who has scored six power-play goals in his past 17 games, joining center Sidney Crosby, forwards Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust, and defenseman Kris Letang

“We like the way the power play is operating,” Sullivan said. “They’ve done a real good job for us. … They’re making a positive impact on the game. That’s encouraging from our standpoint.”

Carter continued to fill Malkin’s usual role as second-line center during line rushes. Malkin skated with Mark Jankowski and Sam Lafferty as the extra forwards.

When healthy, Malkin would likely play with right wing Kasperi Kapanen on the second line. 

Kapanen has scored three points (one goal, two assists) in four games since returning from a lower-body injury. He was injured four games after Malkin.

“I’d like to think that we’d be put together,” Kapanen said. “I think we had some good chemistry going on when we were both playing. So very excited for him to come back. Hopefully it’s soon. But we’ll see.”

Forwards Frederick Gaudreau and Brandon Tanev will also travel for the road trip. Gaudreau took full contact Wednesday after missing eight games with a lower-body injury; Tanev, who has missed 12 games with an upper-body injury, is not expected to return before the end of the regular season.

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