USATSI_9826481_154158418_lowresThe Pittsburgh Penguins received some good news Monday, as forward Evgeni Malkin returned to practice. He was wearing a no-contact sweater and will be out of the lineup on Tuesday as the team takes on the Calgary Flames, but his appearance matters.

Malkin is set to miss his fifth straight on Tuesday due to a lower body injury.

“We were really encouraged with his practice,” Sullivan said. “He felt strong. His next progression is to get the contact part of the practice, so that will be the next step. But certainly, the fact that he joined the team today in a non-contact capacity is real encouraging.”

Monday’s practice was Malkin’s first since the injury, which took place on January 24 as the Penguins faced off against the St. Louis Blues.

Malkin skated with skills coach Ty Hennes throughout the past week, but Monday was a chance to get out there with his teammates. He spent time in rotation with centre Carter Rowney, slipping between Patric Hornqvist and Scott Wilson. He also saw time with Pittsburgh’s first power play unit.

Pittsburgh has managed life without Malkin rather well, going 3-1-0 in his absence.

But his offensive punch is still missed and he was playing stellar hockey before the injury, averaging 1.15 points per game – his highest average since 2013-2014.

In 47 games this season, Malkin has 22 goals and 32 assists. He has 19 points on the power play and has clocked 146 shots on goal.

The injury kept the forward out of the NHL’s All-Star festivities, plus he wasn’t included on the league’s 100 Greatest NHL Players list.

Right now, such accolades matter little and the focus is on getting back into game shape.

“I’m trying to do my best,” Malkin said. “I skated extra, a little bit of work after practice. It’s not easy. A game is different. It doesn’t matter how you practice. A game is whole [lot] different. I just do my best…Everything is good. I’m glad with what I did.”

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