Coyotes-Penguins Preview

The Pittsburgh Penguins are squandering a chance to improve their playoff positioning, bogged down by a sputtering offense.

Evgeni Malkin’s potential return could help them turn things around.

Malkin hopes to be back on the ice Saturday when Pittsburgh hosts the lowly Arizona Coyotes.

The Penguins (40-23-11) are 1-5-1 in their last seven games and were overrun in a 5-2 loss at Carolina on Thursday. They surrendered five straight goals after Brandon Sutter put them up 1-0.

Malkin, who has missed the last six games with a lower-body injury, had a difficult time being a spectator.

"We’re playing so bad right now, it’s true," he told the team’s official website. "Not just one guy, it’s the whole team. The last game, I think it’s the worst game of the whole season. It’s not fun to watch."

Pittsburgh, third place in the Metropolitan Division with 91 points, has produced nine goals in six games without Malkin after averaging 2.8 previously. The recent poor play has resulted in a failed opportunity – the Penguins are still two points behind the Islanders, who also are 1-5-1 in their last seven.

Malkin, who has 68 points in 63 games, said he has a great chance to play if he doesn’t experience pain or soreness Friday night.

"I feel good," said Malkin, who has four goals and six assists in eight games against the Coyotes. "I skated the last five days, today the first time with a line. Good full practice, nothing bad and we’ll see tomorrow."

The Penguins have also been without Patric Hornqvist, their third-leading goal scorer, for five games with an undisclosed injury. He is day to day.

Facing Arizona’s inept defense could be a panacea for Pittsburgh in its own right. The Coyotes (23-44-8) rank 28th allowing 3.25 goals per game.

They opened a three-game trip with wins over Detroit and Buffalo after dropping 18 of 19, however, and are looking for their first three-game winning streak since Dec. 23-29.

Arizona has nine goals in its last two games after scoring two or fewer in 10 of 11.

"I think individually it’s good, but I think more importantly for the team to get a couple wins is good," said David Moss, who has three goals in the back-to-back victories. "I think we’ve battled hard the last little bit here and haven’t got the results we wanted. It’s certainly frustrating, but I think these last two games have been really good for the team."

The Coyotes moved six points ahead of league-worst Buffalo with a 4-3 overtime road win against the Sabres on Thursday, receiving cheers from the Buffalo fans. The last-place finisher has a 20 percent chance at receiving the No. 1 pick and their choice between coveted prospects Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.

"We just tried to stay focused on what we had to do tonight and I thought we did a good job of that.," said Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has four goals and three assists in his last five games.

Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win at Phoenix last Saturday and has four goals and nine assists in nine career meetings.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston said he will start Thomas Greiss, who owns a 1.56 goals-against average over his last five games but is 2-3-0 versus Arizona.