Penguins’ Malkin may return for game against Canucks

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins have weathered the absence of center Evgeni Malkin pretty well, earning 10 of a possible 14 points. Still, they are thrilled that Malkin is likely to return Tuesday when the Vancouver Canucks visit PPG Paints Arena.

“You can’t replace Geno,” fellow star center Sidney Crosby said. “Getting him back just makes us that much more dangerous.”

Malkin, who is recovering from a left leg injury, was expected to return Saturday at Arizona, but somewhat surprisingly was scratched before Pittsburgh’s 4-3 overtime loss.

Monday, however, Malkin was a full participant in practice, including his regular spot on the power play.

“He felt really strong,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said, describing Malkin as a game-time decision for Tuesday. If there are no setbacks, it is expected that Malkin will play.

Despite missing the past seven games, Malkin came out of the weekend ranked seventh in the NHL with 54 points, including 22 goals.

While Pittsburgh (34-13-7) as a whole stands to benefit from Malkin’s return, Crosby in particular could get a boost. He has been chasing his 1,000th career point and sits at 998 after going two consecutive games without a point for the first time in nearly a calendar year.

Malkin’s return undoubtedly would induce the Canucks to concentrate defensively on two lines rather than focus heavily on Crosby and his line.

“Other teams pay attention when he’s in the lineup,” said Crosby, who coming out of the weekend was tied for second in the NHL with 60 points, including a league-leading 30 goals.

Crosby also has had to play with substitute wingers because of injury. He had developed strong chemistry with Conor Sheary, who has missed five games because of an upper-body injury but who skated Monday.

“We’re encouraged with his progress,” Sullivan said of Sheary. “Being back on the ice is a big step for him.”

Bryan Rust, who also has played with Crosby, will miss his second straight game because of an upper-body injury that “is longer-term” but probably not season-ending, Sullivan said.

Also out for the Penguins is winger Carl Hagelin, who has a concussion.

“We’re missing four forwards that are regularly playing probably 15 minutes (a game) minimum,” Crosby noted.

Vancouver, which had a day off Monday, has not had an equivalent problem with regulars out of the lineup lately, but its record the past seven games, 2-5, isn’t nearly as strong as Pittsburgh’s.

However, the Canucks have won two of their past three games to reach .500 (25-25-6) and stay within striking distance of a wild-card spot in the West.

“We all feel some urgency right now,” winger Alex Burrows told the Vancouver Sun. “We look where we’re at in the standings and we all want to be in the playoffs — the guys in this locker room. … We need points now; everybody gets that.”

A 4-2 win Sunday at Buffalo gave the Canucks two victories in their past three games, with the loss in between coming Saturday at Boston, 4-3, in a game that was decided late in the third period.

“We lost a tough one (Saturday),” said center Michael Chaput, who had two goals Sunday against Buffalo. “It was honestly just pretty frustrating. We knew we had to be good (against the Sabres), especially going to Pittsburgh. I think it’s going to be good for our group.”