The Pittsburgh Penguins will face perhaps their toughest matchup of the season thus far tonight, when the San Jose Sharks come to town for a Thursday night showdown.
Unfortunately, they will have to do so without the services of star center Evgeni Malkin, who left practice this morning early after suffering an undisclosed injury. He is listed as day to day on the Penguins website, however coach Dan Bylsma said that Malkin’s absence was due to a lower-body injury, and that he would not play in tonights matchup with the Sharks.
While it doesn’t seem like the injury is anything serious, it goes without saying that the Penguins will certainly miss Malkin on the second line. No player has been hotter lately than Geno, whose four goals and 21 assists for 25 points was the most by anyone player in a single months since Wayne Gretzky did it back in 1996 with the Los Angeles Kings.
The injury could not have come at a more inopportune time, as the Penguins lose the services of the hottest offensive talent in the league right now, at the same time that the hottest team in the league, the San Jose Sharks, comes into town. However, Pittsburgh still has a multitude of weapons at forward, so it it should still be a pretty tight game. The Pens are still considered a measuring stick (along with Boston) for teams in the West.
This likely means that Brandon Sutter would move up from the third line to center Jokinen and Neal, while an all-AHL line of Chris Connor, Andrew Ebbett, and Zach Sill, will comprise the third line. If I’m San Jose, you better believe that I’ll be trying to matchup the top line of Thornton, Hertl, and Burns against the Penguins third line all game. If the Penguins choose to keep Sutter down on the third line, it would likely mean that Jayson Megna would slide on the second line.
Besides the fact that it pits two of the best teams in the league against each other, tonights game is special for one other reason: it features the return of Tyler Kennedy to Pittsburgh for the first time since he signed with the Sharks as a free agent in the offseason.
Kennedy’s time in Pittsburgh was somewhat of an anomaly for most Pens fans: He had a knack for scoring huge goals when the Penguins needed them most, from the 2009 Cup Final, all the way up to the 2013 playoff series against the Islanders. In between these goals, however, Kennedy’s play often resembled a chicken with its head cut off. One of the most frustrating players to watch, TK was famous for taking the puck of the half wall, skating it up through the neutral zone, and blasting it right into the goals chest a few moments after he crossed the blue line.
While few Penguins fans were upset to see him go after 2013, a good deal of them would probably love to have both him and Matt Cooke back for the time being, as injury has left the bottom six depleted and scattered.
The Penguins announced that they would salute TK with a video montage in the first period, which is more than Jaromir Jagr can say.