Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin returns from injury, faces possible suspension for stick swing
PHILADELPHIA – Evgeni Malkin made a positive impact on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night in his return from a five-game absence due to an upper-body injury.
They’ll have to wait to hear from the NHL’s department of player safety to know whether they’ll have him in the lineup again Wednesday night against Edmonton.
Late in the third period of a 4-1 Penguins victory, Malkin was given a match penalty for swinging his stick at the head of Flyers forward Michael Raffl.
The pair was engaged in a battle in front of the benches when Raffl threw a gloved punch to the back of Malkin’s head. The Penguins center responded with a baseball swing that did not appear to make contact with Raffl.
“I don’t know. He just dived,” Malkin said. “Referee gave me five minutes. Nothing injured. Not bleeding. Nothing. I don’t know. I know I give them five-minute power play. It’s my fault for sure. Play smart next time.”
Match penalties are automatically reviewed by the league office.
“I just think on Geno’s part, it was reactionary,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He was getting punched in the back of the head. It was a battle between the two of them. I think it was reactionary. I was a little surprised it was a match (penalty) because the player didn’t get hurt on it or there wasn’t real significant contact, but that’s not how the referee saw it.”
Penalty aside, Malkin had an effective night for the Penguins. He had four shots on goal and won 56 percent of his faceoffs in about 16 minutes of ice time.
About seven minutes into the second period, Malkin knocked down a bouncing puck Phil Kessel had nudged into the neutral zone and left a drop pass for Bjugstad at the top of the left faceoff circle. Bjugstad’s shot beat goalie Carter Hart blocker side to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead.
“Pretty normal. Pretty good,” Malkin said when asked how he felt. “Always a little bit nervous when you get back, first game, but we play against Philly. Great team. They win the last eight, nine games. We understand they play good right now at home.
“I think we did a great job. Maybe we were not great second period. We gave them so many chances. We need to push back. I think we need to control more pucks and we need to control play in the offensive zone. It’s like a playoff game for us. It doesn’t matter. We take the two points. Our goalie and PK did a great job tonight for sure.”
Malkin and his linemates, Kessel and Bjugstad, were the only Penguins forwards with shot-attempt stats in the black in the game.
“You can see how dangerous they can be when they have the puck,” Sullivan said. “They made a couple of plays. They had a handful of Grade-A scoring chances. Nick in particular, Nick had three of them himself. One of them he scores on. They have the potential to be a real dynamic line offensively. I think what Nick adds to Geno and Phil is he’s a center iceman, so he has a comfort level playing down low and he can take faceoffs being a right-handed shot.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.