Although they are missing three of their top six defensemen due to injury (Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi) and two top-six wingers (Beau Bennett – injured, James Neal – suspended) for various reasons, the Penguins may be welcoming star center Evgeni Malkin back for Monday’s confrontation with Columbus.
According to the Penguins’ website, Malkin centered Jussi Jokinen and Jayson Megna during line rushes during the gameday skate. Malkin, who has missed the past two games with a lower-body injury, also participated in power-play drills with the first unit. He played a point alongside Kris Letang, with Jokinen replacing Neal up front. Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz were in their usual roles.
Malkin scored 37 points in 29 games before hurting himself in a win over the Islanders last Tuesday. He continues to lead the NHL in assists with 30 and is tied with Chicago’s Patrick Kane for second place in the points race. Crosby leads all scorers with 42 points.
Crosby speaks on Orpik, Thornton
Crosby acknowledged that Thornton was trying to respond to Orpik’s early clean hit on Boston’s Loui Eriksson, who left the game with his second concussion of the season. Crosby also said he doesn’t necessarily agree with the mentality that led Thornton to lash out to avenge a legal play.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense for [Orpik] to pay the price for doing a great job and finishing a hit,” Crosby said. “He didn’t hit [Eriksson] in the head. There’s nothing there to really respond to.”
Crosby called Thornton’s blind-side assault “totally unnecessary” and “terrible,” but also said every team wants a player like Thornton who will look out for teammates’ well-being. In my opinion, that contradiction is another indictment of the vigilante justice system tacitly encouraged by the NHL and its teams and players.
The Blue Jackets (12-14-3, 27 points) have won two in a row, but the first-place Penguins (20-10-1, 41 points) have taken both meetings with their new Metropolitian Division rivals this season. In fact, Pittsburgh is 7-1-1 in its last nine matchups with Columbus, which moved to the Eastern Conference this season after more than a decade in the West.
The puck will drop at 7 p.m. at Consol Energy Center, where the Penguins have won five straight. Their last loss on home ice was a 2-1 decision Nov. 13 against Philadelphia.
Marc-Andre Fleury will get his fourth consecutive start in goal, but the rest of the lineup is a game-time decision, according to Bylsma. Newly-recalled defenseman Brian Dumoulin has a chance at his first NHL action, as he rotated with Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo in drills.