Malkin returns for Penguins; Ovechkin a game-time decision for Capitals

We could see the return of two of the NHL’s biggest stars — Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin — on Monday night as the two teams continue to compete for the top spot in the East Division.

Let’s start with Malkin, who we know will return to the lineup for the Penguins when they start a back-to-back set with the Flyers.

Malkin has been sidelined for the past 23 games following a lower-body injury that he suffered against the Bruins. The Penguins excelled in Malkin’s absence, going 16-5-2 in those games. The Sidney Crosby line, combined with some surprisingly strong forward depth that was bolstered with the in-season addition of Jeff Carter, helped the Penguins overcome Malkin’s absence. Adding him back to the lineup gives them a quartet of Crosby, Malkin, Carter, and Teddy Blueger down the middle which would be one of the league’s best groupings.

The big question will be whether or not Malkin takes his usual spot on the team’s top power play. That unit improved during Malkin’s absence with Jared McCann filling in and making a huge impact on the power play.

Malkin had a disappointing start to the season — at least based on his standards and resume — but was really starting to pick up his play prior to his injury. He was on an eight-game point streak going into the game where he was injured, including four multi-point games. The Penguins won seven of those eight games.

In other Penguins news, defenseman Mike Matheson is going to be sidelined “week-to-week” after he was hit in the face by a puck this weekend. Brandon Tanev and Evan Rodrigues also remain day-to-day.

Ovechkin game-time decision for Capitals

Meanwhile, in Washington, Ovechkin is going to be a game-time decision for the Capitals’ game against the Rangers.

He has missed the Capitals’ past four games due to a lower-body injury. The Capitals went 2-1-1 in those games, sweeping a two-game set with the Islanders and then going 0-1-1 against the Penguins.

Obviously getting him in the lineup would be a significant boost for a Capitals team that enters the day two points behind the Penguins for first place in the East Division. He remains the Capitals’ top goal-scoring threat — by far — with a team-leading 24 goals. The next closest player on the roster is T.J. Oshie with 18. Oshie has played in seven more games than Ovechkin.

The fact he has missed seven games this season, along with the fact the season is already shortened, are likely to keep Ovechkin under the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career.

He has still averaged 0.56 goals per game this season which would be a 45-goal pace over 82 games.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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