There's a chance that Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin could end his six-game absence Friday night. While the Penguins would undoubtedly love to have Malkin back on the ice, they've already shown they can do just fine without him.
With or without Malkin, the Penguins will try to match the longest win streak in the NHL this season at 11 games when they visit the New York Islanders.
Pittsburgh (23-8-0) has continued to roll despite Malkin's shoulder injury, playing especially well on defense without the reigning league MVP. The Penguins have allowed six goals in their last six games.
They extended their run Tuesday with a 2-1 victory over Washington. Matt Niskanen's tiebreaking goal in the third period made the Penguins the first team with double-digit win streaks in three consecutive seasons.
"The importance is probably greater just because of a shortened season, but I think the good thing for us is that we're playing so many games and I don't think anyone is thinking a whole lot about it, we're just going out there and playing the way that we need to," captain Sidney Crosby said.
Malkin has resumed practicing, but neither he nor coach Dan Bylsma would give a definitive answer on when he might return.
"Every day it's better, but I'm not skating at 100 percent. It's probably soon. It's tough to say," Malkin said Wednesday. "I'm close to playing. I'll try to play Friday, but it's hard to say now. We'll see."
Defenseman Kris Letang, second on the team with 25 assists, is day-to-day with a lower-body injury after sitting out against the Capitals.
The Penguins are looking for their third straight win over the Islanders following three straight losses in the series. Pittsburgh has outscored New York 10-3 in the past two meetings, winning 4-2 in its most recent trip to Long Island on Feb. 5.
Chris Kunitz recorded a hat trick and two assists and Crosby matched a career high with five assists in a 6-1 home win over the Islanders on March 10, the day after Malkin was hurt in a shootout win in Toronto.
The Penguins have won four of their last five visits to Nassau Coliseum and will face a team coming off back-to-back losses, both at home. The Islanders have been outscored 10-5 in those defeats after going 5-1-1 in their first seven games this month.
New York (13-14-3) has given up seven of those 10 goals in the third period, allowing Montreal to score three times in the final 20 minutes of a 5-2 defeat Thursday.
"We got away from our game after playing a good first 40 minutes," center John Tavares said. "We have to understand that we can't come off the gas pedal in the third period."
The Penguins are seeking to match Chicago's 11-game win streak from Feb. 15-March 6, and they're looking to win five straight road games for the first time since a seven-game run Nov. 6-Dec. 11, 2010.
The Islanders are an NHL-worst 5-10-2 at home.
The Associated Press News Service
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