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The Pittsburgh Penguins have re-assigned forward Daniel Sprong to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Jim Rutherford.

Sprong, 20, scored twice and had three points in eight NHL games. He is the WBS Penguins’ leading goal scorer this season with 18 goals in 29 AHL contests. His 18 goals are tied for second-most among AHL rookies.
The Penguins return home tomorrow night to begin a four-game homestand that surrounds the All-Star Break. Pittsburgh hosts the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night at 7:00 PM ET at PPG Paints Arena.
Heading into tomorrow night, the Penguins have won three-straight home games. Evgeni Malkin (4G-3A), Phil Kessel (3G-4A) and Sidney Crosby (2G-5A) have each produced seven points during the streak. Crosby, who is tied for the NHL lead with 16 points (3G-13A) during the month of January, is riding a season-long seven-game point streak (3G-12A-15PTS). Heading into Monday’s action, only fellow Nova Scotia native Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche (9 games) has a longer active streak in the league.

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Here are the 3 biggest takeaways from the Penguins’ Friday afternoon skate in San Jose.

1. Schultz okay after crosscheck

Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz skated after he left in the third period of Thursday’s game following a crosscheck from Dustin Brown.

“I feel fine,” Schultz said. “Everything went well out there, so I’m good to go. I was pretty nervous at first, luckily all the tests went well and a good day on the ice today. I’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”

On the play, Schultz had fallen to his knees facing the boards and was completely defenseless when Brown skated up and leveled him from behind, sending his face into the dasher.

The Kings forward received a five-minute major and a game misconduct, as well as a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety this afternoon. However, Brown did not receive a suspension, merely receiving a fine of $10,000, the maximum allowable under the CBA.

“The league deals with that, I’m not going to comment and start anything,” Schultz said. “It is what it is. I’m not hurt, so that’s alright. I’ll be back next game.”

Evgeni Malkin also received disciplinary action for a play in the game. He was fined $5,000 for spearing Brown in the first period.

2. Pens monitoring workload

The team stayed the night in Los Angeles following their 3-1 win over the Kings and had an 11 a.m. flight to San Jose this morning. When they landed, one bus went to the team hotel while the other took Schultz, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Daniel Sprong, Ian Cole, Chad Ruhwedel, Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith to the Sharks’ practice facility for a skate.

The Penguins have been taking advantage of every opportunity they have to get rest, especially since entering the second half of the season. For this California swing, they’ve only had one full practice – on Tuesday in Anaheim – and will finish the trip without having held a morning skate for any of the three games.

“We’re obviously trying to monitor our workload and for example, this particular week, we’re in the middle of three games in four nights,” head coach Mike Sullivan explained. “We just had back-to-back games, two pretty tough games against two really good teams. To give them an opportunity to recover today, we felt as though it was really important so that we can be at our best tomorrow.”

3. WBS streaking

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins extended their season-best winning streak to 8 games with a 4-1 win over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Wednesday.

Arguably the most impressive part of that streak is that a number of WBS’ top forwards and both goaltenders they started the season with are currently with Pittsburgh: DeSmith, Jarry, Dea, Sprong and Dominik Simon.

Talking with Dea, who made his season debut on Thursday centering Tom Kuhnhackl and Ryan Reaves, he credited the entire organization from top to bottom for making it easy on guys to slot in wherever they’re needed.

“The whole organization does a great job, starting in Wheeling,” Dea said. “When guys come up they’re ready to play so it makes everything easier. In Wilkes we had good guys down there who work hard. That’s the way we play here in the Pittsburgh organization. We work hard and skate. So that’s why, I think. All three groups of players on the teams make a big group and everybody works hard and helps each other. Every time guys get called up and stuff, they’re ready to go and they know what to do.”

It also helps that WBS head coach Clark Donatelli, who is one of the absolute best people in the game, and first-year assistant coach Tim Army do a tremendous job of finding that balance between development and winning.

“They’re the best, obviously,” Dea said with a smile. “You look at Clarkie, you can’t ask for a better guy to make you feel comfortable. Always there to talk to you and make sure you’re comfortable. Obviously they’re doing a really good job down there.”

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Penguins forward Phil Kessel, the NHL’s seventh-highest scorer, was named NHL ‘Third Star of the Week’ after helping the Penguins win both games this weekend following their five-day bye week.

Kessel, who leads the Penguins across board in goals (20), assists (32) and points (52), contributed five points (2G-3A) in victories against Detroit (4-1) and the New York Rangers (5-2). He had three points against Detroit (1G-2A), and two more versus New York (1G-1A). Kessel had the game-winning goal in both wins.

This is the second-straight week that a Penguins player has been named ‘Third Star of the Week.’ Captain Sidney Crosby took home the same honor last Monday.

Sunday night against the Rangers, Kessel’s goal that gave the Pens the lead for good was his 20th of the season, the 10th-consecutive year he has reached the milestone. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kessel joined Keith Tkachuk and Patrick Kane as the only American-born players all-time to score 20-plus goals for 10 or more consecutive years. That tally was also Kessel’s 700th NHL point, making him the 27th American-born player all-time to hit that mark. He and Kane are the only active Americans with 700 points.

This season, Kessel has been one of the most consistent offensive performers in the NHL. He has only gone back-to-back games without a point once the entire season – back on October 16 and 18. Right now, he is riding a four-game point streak (3G-5A-8PTS) and a three-game goal-scoring streak. If he gets a point on Wednesday night when the Penguins begin a three-game road trip in Anaheim at 10 PM ET, Kessel will compile his fourth five-game point streak of the season.

Kessel is on pace to score 36 goals, and to establish career highs in both assists (57) and points (93).

In January, Kessel has helped lead an offensive revival that has led to the Penguins winning five of their first six games this month. During that stretch, the Penguins have scored an NHL-high 24 goals. Kessel is one of four NHL players that have already hit double digits in points this month – a list that includes three Penguins: Crosby (3G-9A-12PTS); Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (2G-9A-11PTS); Kessel (4G-6A-10PTS) and Evgeni Malkin (5G-5A-10PTS).

This season, Kessel (7th overall), Crosby (13th) and Malkin (14th) all rank among the NHL’s top-15 scorers. The Philadelphia Flyers are the only other team that has three players ranked that high.

Kessel and the Penguins currently sit in the top Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference playoff field. Pittsburgh aims to establish a season high by winning its fifth-straight game on Wednesday night.

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins’ 6-5 overtime win over Boston…

* The Pens are finally starting to build momentum. With tonight’s victory, they have now won consecutive games for the first time since going on a four-game win streak from Nov. 25 to Dec. 2. And was it ever a character victory for the Pens. They were going up against a team that was on a 10-game point streak and playing with plenty of confidence. Despite a bunch of momentum swings and a lot of adversity – most notably watching a 3-1 lead turn into a 5-3 deficit in the second period – the Pens battled through it all.

“I thought we stayed with it,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “I give the players so much credit for just staying with it and staying in the fight. I think that’s something we’ve talked about a lot in the last couple of weeks, just making sure that we control our own attitude and own pushback when things don’t go our way during the course of a game. We certainly displayed that tonight.”

* It certainly helps the Pens’ best players were just that: Evgeni Malkin scored twice (including the game-winner), and added an assist, Sidney Crosby finished with three helpers, and Phil Kessel and Kris Letang each recorded a goal and an assist. They were absolutely dominant on the power play, in the third period and overtime, carrying play for the Pens and leading them to victory.

* This was a tough night for the starting goaltenders. At one end, Tuukka Rask was fighting the puck all night. The Pens could sense it, and they kept firing it at him, never letting him get comfortable and beating him clean on most of the goals. Putting up six on a goalie like Rask is incredibly impressive considering he had allowed one goal or less in each of his last five starts. At the other end,  Tristan Jarry had been terrific for the Pens heading into the game and earned the nod, but struggled at times against a Bruins attack that scored at least five goals for the fifth time in their last six contests.

He was replaced by Matt Murray late in the second period, who came in and was strong in relief. He made a game-changing save with 1:01 left in regulation and the teams tied 5-5. Brad Marchand was awarded a penalty shot after a breakaway attempt, but Murray turned aside his attempt to keep the score even and allow his teammates to get the overtime winner.

* The goalie switch was a wakeup call for the Pens, who responded almost immediately. With just 3.6 seconds left in the second period and Pittsburgh on the power play, Crosby made an unbelievable no-look backhand pass from the corner right on Malkin’s tape. He went down on one knee to bury the one-timer, and helped shift the momentum back on Pittsburgh’s side heading into the intermission. Riley Sheahan made sure they kept that momentum by scoring the tying goal less than three minutes in. From there, the Pens pressed and pressed and refused to let their foot off the gas pedal like they did in the second, outshooting the Bruins 17-6 in the period.

* Overall, the Penguins dominated on special teams tonight. Despite having a big challenge in Boston’s No. 2-ranked penalty kill, which has been so successful because of its aggressiveness, Pittsburgh’s No. 1-ranked power play continued to thrive as both Malkin and Kessel found the back of the net.

“I just think they’re so dynamic,” Sullivan said. “They’re instinctive. They have a scheme, there is a framework there, but what separates them from other power plays is their movement and their instinctive play when they go off the grid a little bit. As a coaching staff, we laugh a lot internally because we would say, how do you prescout our power play? I’m not sure if it’s possible because sometimes we don’t even know what they’re going to do. I think that’s just an indication of their talent level and instincts that they bring to the table.”

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s penalty kill thwarted both of Boston’s man-advantage attempts with some tremendous blocks and clears. They are now perfect on the PK in seven straight games. The unit nicknamed the Jacques Squad has had to use different personnel with guys in and out of the lineup, but they’ve jumped in seamlessly. Meanwhile, Riley Sheahan has been an anchor, logging a team-high 2:27 shorthanded minutes while also chipping in a goal

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Once upon a time, two Stanley Cups ago, it appeared the Pittsburgh Penguins’ chance to win a championship was over. When the team fired head coach Mike Johnston on Dec. 12, 2015, it was in dire straits. Superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had seen a drop in production, the depth beyond them was weak, the team was up against the salary cap and it had a starting goalie with a poor recent playoff history.

Then a number of things went the Penguins’ way. New coach Mike Sullivan kicked them into high gear, playing aggressive, up-tempo hockey, and GM Jim Rutherford traded for key role players Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daley. Young goalie Matt Murray came out of the AHL to raise two Cups.

Depending on how optimistic you want to be, you could take different morals from the story of the 2015-16 Penguins. Yes, their recent past proves they can rebound quickly so long as Crosby and Malkin are still around. But a lot of things had to break their way — things that are unlikely to be repeated.

After being a popular Stanley Cup pick this preseason, things haven’t gone swimmingly for the Pens in 2017-18, and they’re currently out of a playoff position. Which direction will the remainder of the season go for the Penguins? Let’s have a look.

Is a hot stretch on the way?

It can be challenging to figure out whether a team’s struggles during a stretch is a matter of poor play or simply puck luck. There are certainly reasonable criticisms of the Penguins’ play, but in this case it’s easy to see how luck is impacting their place in the standings.

At even strength, Pittsburgh has the worst goals for percentage in the NHL. Worse than Arizona. Worse than Buffalo. Dead last.

Considering the talent, it seems unfathomable that the Penguins could be dominated so badly. But their play might not be matching up with the results. Pittsburgh has put the second-most shots on goal in the NHL this season, and has outshot opponents by 136 shots. They have a 50-50 split in scoring chances and close shots, according to the analytics website Natural Stat Trick. But Pittsburgh also has both the worst shooting percentage and worst save percentage in the NHL.

Taking more shots on goal and getting the same number of close shots as opponents, and still ending up last in goal differential is quite difficult to do. In fact, Pittsburgh’s numbers in shots and high-danger shots aren’t much different from last season:

Unfortunately for the Pens, the player with the worst luck of anyone has been Crosby. The future Hall of Famer has never posted a 5-on-5 shooting percentage below 10 percent. This season, just 4.2 percent of his even-strength shots have found the back of the net. Last season, he scored 26 goals at 5-on-5, while he has only three this season in that situation. Crosby’s shot rate is down from 2.3 even-strength shots per game to 1.8, but that shouldn’t be expected to sink his 5-on-5 production to the bottom of the league.

Additionally, Crosby has only six assists at 5-on-5 despite his team outshooting opponents 388-321 with him on the ice. Likewise, No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang has been on ice for a 370-323 shot differential — and the team has been outscored 39-15 during that time.

It’s not impossible for superstar players’ numbers to stay this low, it’s just extremely unlikely.

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens’ 4-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena

* The Pens need this win. Pittsburgh had lost 3 straight games, each by 1 goal. To be so close, but come up empty has been frustrating for the team. But to lose a 2-0 lead to the last-place Coyotes in a game that Pittsburgh completely dominated would have really been a heartbreaker.

Fear not. Pittsburgh rebounded from surrendering a third-period game-tying goal to retake the lead and win the game. Even head coach Mike Sullivan said that the feeling on the bench was that the Pens would score the go-ahead goal and win the game. That’s the kind of resilient swagger that the Pens have lacked lately. Hopefully, this win will help them get their mojo back.

* What a third period for defenseman Olli Maatta. First he was the goat for losing a puck at his own crease that culminated with Arizona tying the game. Then he made a game-saving stop by diving over his own goaltender to clear a loose puck in the crease before Brad Richardson could convert. Then he finished it all off by scoring the game-winning goal with a mere 14.7 seconds left in regulation. From goat to hero in 10 minutes.

* The game was also a little bit of redemption for center Evgeni Malkin. He was the man that threw a hard pass to Maatta that resulted in a turnover and Arizona’s tying goal. But he would go on to setup Maatta for the winner after an incredible shift in the offensive zone. Malkin was a horse on that final series, and we can’t discount his goal late in the second period either. On that tally, Malkin drove to the net and relentlessly wacked at the puck until it went in.

* The Pens finally broke though with some offense early from the least likely of sources: the penalty kill and Carter Rowney. Pittsburgh was disadvantaged late in the second period when Bryan Rust forced a turnover at the blue line. He and Rowney were off on a 2-on-2. Both ‘Yotes defenders jumped on Rust and he made a patient, perfect backhand pass around the outstretched stick of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and to a wide-open Rowney. The Pens’ winger went crossbar, post and in for the tally.

* The penalty kill stepped up with a goal, but its first priority is always to kill the penalty. And the Pens deserve an immense amount of credit for that of late. The PKers haven’t given up a goal in the past 8 straight games, a perfect 23-for-23 in that span.

* We’ll end with a congratulations to Mike Sullivan for recording his 100th win with the Pens, becoming just the fourth coach to hit the century mark for the organization.

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Pittsburgh Penguins starting goalie Matt Murray is considered out week to week with a lower-body injury suffered on Monday, coach Mike Sullivan said.

Murray exited with 4:21 left in the second period after Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek crashed into him during a breakaway. The 23-year-old managed to skate off under his own power before limping down the runway, clearly favoring his right leg.

Tristan Jarry stepped in for Murray, and the Penguins rallied for a 5-4 overtime win. Jarry appears to be the solution right now. Pittsburgh also called up goalie Casey DeSmith from the AHL.

Jarry earned his first NHL win against the Lightning Nov. 25, making 33 saves on 35 shots.

“We believe he is a solid goalie,” Sullivan said, according to NHL.com. “I think the game he played against Tampa is a perfect example of what he’s capable of. Tristan is going to have to make timely saves for us game in and game out. We believe he can do that.”

Backup goalie has been a point of concern for the Penguins this season. Antti Niemi, 34, entered the season as the No. 2, but he lasted only three games before being cut loose with a 7.97 goals-against average. That opened the door for the 22-year-old Jarry, who has appeared in only four games this season and one last year.

The Penguins were also missing center Evgeni Malkin Monday for a fourth straight game with an upper-body injury. Sullivan said he is day to day and will accompany the team on its trip to Buffalo Friday.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Here are the 3 biggest takeaways from the Penguins’ Thanksgiving Day practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex…

1. Injury updates

Evgeni Malkin, who missed Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to Vancouver with an upper-body injury, was the only player missing from the skate. Head coach Mike Sullivan said his status remains the same.

“He’s not going to travel with us to Boston,” Sullivan said. “We’ll evaluate him when we come back. One of the reasons he’s not going to travel with us is because it’s an afternoon game and he’s got an opportunity to skate here.”

While Malkin is ruled out for Thursday’s game against the Bruins, Sullivan said he is a possibility to play Saturday against the Lightning.

Carter Rowney, who has missed the last 14 games with an upper-body injury, took warmups last night but did not play. The center, who returned to team practice on Nov. 18 and has been taken off injured reserve, said that he continues to feel better and better, though he admitted it’s been tough to stay patient.

“It feels like I’ve been out for months on months right now,” he said. “I’m at the end here hopefully, and as long as there’s no setbacks or anything like that, I’ll hopefully be back soon.”

Rowney did line rushes at practice. Here’s the team’s workflow…

Sheary-Crosby-Hornqvist

Guentzel-Sheahan-Kessel

Hagelin-Rowney-Rust

Kuhnhackl-McKegg-Reaves

Archibald rotated in with the defense.

2. Turkey time

After practice the Pens got on a flight to Boston, where the players will be treated to a Thanksgiving meal at the team hotel.

New England natives like Conor Sheary, who’s from Massachusetts, and Brian Dumoulin, who’s from Maine, will be dining with their teammates despite being close to home. “I’m going to miss my grandmother’s cooking this time around,” Sheary said with a smile. “I think by the time we get in it will be a little bit late and with the day game tomorrow, I want to make sure I get my rest.”

The Michigan natives on the team, like Bryan Rust, Ian Cole and Matt Hunwick, were all watching the Detroit Lions play in their annual Thanksgiving Day game in the locker room before they left – which is a tradition for those guys.

“We’d watch the Lions every year, they would basically lose every year, so the Lions losing was also a great Thanksgiving day tradition,” joked Cole.

All of the American-born players grew up with different traditions, but one constant was the food. Here’s a few of them talking about their favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner…

Cole: “I don’t know if I have a favorite part. I’m a big sweet potato casserole guy. Love sweet potatoes, love the sweet potato casserole. Love the brussel sprouts, love the stuffing. The turkey is great too, if you get the nice dark meat.”

Hunwick: “My father in-law makes some really good stuffing. Sausage, there’s so much stuff in there that’s so good, mushrooms. It’s really good I love it, they put some vegetables in there. I’ll be missing it this year.”

Ruhwedel: “Turkey and gravy. You gotta have the good gravy on it. Stuffing too, kind of on the biggest plate possible.”

Rust: “Recently stuffing. I was never a stuffing fan until recently, until the last couple years I was never a fan. My taste buds evolved.”

3. Sullivan’s message

It’s no secret that the Pens are dealing with some adversity right now. The team is coming off its second straight loss, where they didn’t score an even-strength goal in either game, and they’ve struggled in a number of areas – particularly coming out with a consistent effort night in and night out.

The players aren’t happy right now, and neither are the coaches, but the message from the staff today was that they need to have a certain level of resilience and resolve.

“It’s never easy when you don’t win,” Sullivan said. “Our expectation when we go into every game is that we’re going to win. That’s the standard that’s been set here, so when you don’t have success, that’s never an easy experience. I’ve never been one to take losing very easily, and I don’t think our players are either. We’ve got a very competitive group and I think they have an expectation to win as well. I think the important thing is that we react and respond the right way.

“Tomorrow’s a new day, today is a new day. So we went out on the ice today, we had a spirited practice. I thought we got better on the ice today, that was important. And then we’ve got to be ready to play tomorrow.”

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens’ 5-2 loss against the Vancouver Canucks at PPG Paints Arena.

* The first period was a wide-open affair and a tale of two tapes. Both teams entered tonight’s game under different circumstances, with the Penguins having three days without a game and the Canucks playing last night in Philadelphia, a 5-2 win over the Flyers. The Penguins looked like they were trying to get their game legs back early, as Vancouver jumped out to a 12-3 shot advantage. The Pens bounced back as the opening frame ended with both teams at 18 shots a piece.

* Similar to when the last time these two teams met on Nov. 4, Brock Boeser was the difference in this one. Boeser capitalized on a turnover in the neutral zone, and placed a perfect shot over Matt Murray’s shoulder to put the Canucks up 1-0 just four minutes into the game.

Boeser tallied again in the second period, this time on the power play, unleashing a one-timer from the top of the right circle that found the twine on the far side, evading a screened Murray. With his two-goal output tonight, the dynamic winger out of North Dakota now has 11 goals in 19 games this season, with five of them coming against Pittsburgh spanned over two contests.

* Jake Guentzel had a strong game as the 23-year-old forward is really starting to heat up with four goals in his past five games, including two tonight on the power play. Operating on the first power-play unit with the absence of injured Evgeni Malkin, Guentzel really made the most of it. His first period goal truly showed off his skating ability. On the power play, Guentzel burst up the ice and corralled a perfectly timed pass from Phil Kessel as he entered the offensive zone, blowing by the Canucks defense. Guentzel ripped a shot from the slot that goalie Anders Nilsson saved, but Guentzel had the smarts to stop at the net and push the second chance opportunity past the Swedish netminder. Guentzel now has points in all four career games against the Canucks.

The Penguins power play went 2-for-5 on the night. They generated a lot of high quality chances, and did a great job of breaking into the zone and targeting the middle of the ice. Guentzel’s second tally with the man-advantage came off a centering feed from Kessel that deflected off Guentzel’s skate in the slot and past Nilsson, cutting the deficit to 4-2 with 18:36 remaining in the final frame.

* Vancouver had three fluke goals that turned out to be too much for the Penguins to overcome. Murray had a strong game despite allowing four goals on 35 shots. He turned aside several high-quality chances in the first period, as well as some good opportunities in the third as the Penguins attempted to claw back into the contest.

On the first weird tally for Vancouver, Kessel was skating back into the defensive zone when he lost possession of the puck to a broken stick laying on the ice behind him. Thomas Vanek picked up the puck and came in on Murray, who patiently turned aside his initial shot. The Penguins were discombobulated in their own end due to the turnover, and Loui Eriksson made them pay with the follow up chance. The Penguins suffered from bad puck luck again in the second period on a shot off the stick of former Penguin Derrick Pouliot. The defenseman took a shot that deflected off Brian Dumoulin’s skate in front as he was clearing the crease and bounced past Murray. The second power-play score for Vancouver, by Boeser, was deflected off of Crosby’s stick.

*The Penguins made a strong push to come back in the game in the third period that was kickstarted by Guentzel’s early power-play goal. The Pens were more physical, punishing the Canucks in their own zone, and generating a lot of chances because of it. The Penguins outhit Vancouver 36-13 over the course of the game and had three power plays in the third period, but Nilsson came up large on numerous occasions, finishing with 43 saves on 45 shots to help Vancouver hold on.

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Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin will miss at least one game with an upper-body injury.

Coach Mike Sullivan announced the injury on Tuesday. Malkin will sit out on Wednesday night when the Penguins host Vancouver. Sullivan says Malkin will be re-evaluated on Thursday. Pittsburgh visits Boston on Friday and hosts Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Malkin is second on the team in scoring, with seven goals and 14 assists in 22 games for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. It’s unclear who will fill his spot on the second line with Phil Kessel and Bryan Rust. Jake Guentzel practiced with them on Tuesday.

The Penguins could have center Carter Rowney return to the lineup against the Canucks. Rowney has missed 13 games with a hand injury.