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Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin hopes injury doesn’t stop him from emerging from slump | TribLIVE.com
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Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin hopes injury doesn’t stop him from emerging from slump

Jonathan Bombulie
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Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin looks to pass during an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils in Pittsburgh, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019.

TAMPA, Fla. – Evgeni Malkin is a little bit nervous.

It’s not a condition that plagues him often, as his Conn Smythe Trophy and three Stanley Cup rings can attest, but that’s the emotion he felt as he sat in his locker stall after the Pittsburgh Penguins practiced at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Friday afternoon.

Malkin is in the midst of a trying season. After a typically superb start, a prolonged slump that began in early November has lasted throughout much of the winter.

Last Wednesday, it looked like Malkin’s season had reached a turning point. He was a force in a 4-2 Penguins victory over Tampa Bay, playing with emotion and physicality, recording two assists and fighting Steven Stamkos in a memorable bout of superstar-on-superstar violence.

Then he woke up the next morning in considerable pain.

He hasn’t played since, which is why he’s nervous.

He’s not worried that he’s going to miss too much more time due to an upper-body injury. He participated in a full team practice Friday, albeit in a red, non-contact jersey, and said his condition is slowly improving. He said he might be back as soon as Monday’s game in Philadelphia, though that’s probably a little optimistic.

What he’s worried about is the momentum of the Tampa Bay game being gone and the dark days of his long slump returning.

“Step forward if I play next game, but I missed four games,” Malkin said. “I’m a little bit nervous now again. Yeah, I have a great game. We win, 4-2. I look forward. (But) it’s life. We have injuries. We have problems sometimes. I’m working back to do my best. I remember I played good against Tampa, but we’ll see what’s going on.”

Malkin would love to say he’s turned a corner. He’d like to vow that as soon as he’s healthy, he’ll be back to playing the dominant game he’s accustomed to.

But he didn’t do that Friday, mostly because he knows talk is cheap.

“If I say right now yes and I’m back and not playing great, it’s nothing,” Malkin said. “We can talk about my game every day. We’ll see when I’m back. Of course I’m trying to do my best. Of course I have great motivation right now.”

One part of that motivation: Malkin is 15 points shy of 1,000 for his career.

“I want it this year,” he said.

Another part: The desire for a fourth Stanley Cup ring still burns inside him.

“We want, together, to play in playoffs,” Malkin said. “We want to be a great team. We want the Cup back. It’s not a secret. We’re hungry.”

Malkin’s injury, for what it’s worth, didn’t happen during the Stamkos fight, he said. It occurred on a hard open-ice hit delivered by Dan Girardi earlier in the game.

“It’s a tough game and we battle hard,” Malkin said. “Doctor gave me pain pills after the first period. It’s a little bit help to me. Always when you play, you don’t feel it. Worse pain is the next morning, the next day. I feel all right after the hit. Next day, I feel so bad. I knew I have something wrong. I go see doctor and a little bit of trouble.”

Malkin can only hope that soon, all his troubles will be behind him.

“I want to play,” Malkin said. “I’m hungry. I do my best and work hard every day. It’s a little bit slow, but I hope I’m back soon.”

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Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.