Pittsburgh Penguins C Evgeni Malkin torched the Tampa Bay Lightning last season with eight goals in four meetings, including a highlight-reel goal still used in many league promotions.
So, it should come as no surprise that Malkin will return to the lineup Monday night to face Tampa Bay after missing four games with a concussion suffered on February 22. Malkin returned to practice with the team on Sunday and passed his baseline test Sunday afternoon giving him full clearance.
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma announced following Monday’s morning skate that Malkin will be in the lineup.
“He is just one of those guys where he doesn’t have any space and he makes it happen,’’ Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. “He’s very tough to handle and he’s been very good against us.’’
The fourth Lightning rookie will make his NHL debut on Monday when LW Ondrej Palat suits up against Pittsburgh in his first career game.
Palat received the call on Sunday while Syracuse was in Hershey, Pa., and did not have proper attire on what he called a “track suit trip.’’ So, before he was picked up in a team-arranged car for the three-plus hour ride to Pittsburgh, he headed to a local store to pick up a suit and some shirts.
“I didn’t have anything, no suit, no shirt, nothing,’’ Palat said. “But it was a big day for me.’’
With injuries depleting the forward ranks, the Lightning are getting a look at some of the organization’s younger players who are knocking on the door to the NHL. That was the case with LW Cory Conacher, LW Alex Killorn and RW Richard Panik earlier this year.
“Palat has probably been the most consistent, the most complete player in the last two years on that team,’’ Boucher said. “He’s not an overly big player, but he’s very strong on the puck. He’s very feisty, but probably his biggest asset is his smarts. He’s always at the right place, so he is very, very reliable defensively and has some offensive abilities.
“So, he probably has the best mix that we have seen down there in the last three years – very solid in all aspects of the game.’’
Did Palat seek out any advice from some of his fellow rookies heading into his NHL debut?
“They just told me to play my game and don’t be nervous because I’m really nervous right now,’’ Palat said after the morning skate.
Boucher said there is nothing new on the diagnosis for LW Benoit Pouliot, who was injured in Saturday’s loss at Boston. Pouliot’s right arm has been in a sling while the team awaits test results. He likely will land on injured reserve.
“He won’t be playing this week, and after that we will see,’’ Boucher said. “I won’t say he’s day to day, but it’s not this week. After this week I think it will be day to day.’’
In addition, Ryan Malone took part in Monday’s morning skate, and though he won’t play against Pittsburgh he has not been ruled out of returning to the lineup on Tuesday in New Jersey. Malone has been out since Feb. 10 with an unspecified lower-body injury.
“We are still evaluating him for (Tuesday), and it’s a possibility, so we’ll see,’’ Boucher said.
G Anders Lindback is scheduled to be in net on Tuesday when Tampa Bay travels to New Jersey to face the Devils. It will be his first start since being pulled from the game against Pittsburgh on Feb. 24 after allowing three goals on 10 shots.
He’s eager to play after being given a chance to regroup.
“I always want to play, get out there to help this team win and it will be fun to be back,’’ Lindback said. “I just tried to work hard in practice and show the coaches that I’m ready to get back out there.’’