Even without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin the Penguins are good

Even without the help of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal at times this season, the...

Even without the help of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal at times this season, the Penguins have been able to play at a high level. (DAVID A. DeNOMA/Reuters)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:37 PM ET

The Pittsburgh Penguins have clinched the NHL Eastern Conference regular-season title and home-ice advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs with a week to go in the regular season.

They have won 21 of their last 23 games.

Now it looks like they are close to getting captain Sidney Crosby and centre Evgeni Malkin back, both former MVPs, along with power winger James Neal.

C’mon. Really?

Crosby, who had reaffirmed his place as the game’s best player after two years of concussion woes before sustaining a broken jaw on March 30, skated again Sunday prior to Penguins practice ahead of their game against the Ottawa Senators Monday night. There are rumblings that Crosby could play the team’s final two regular-season games in preparation for the playoffs.

Malkin (suspected shoulder injury) and Neal (concussion) both practised with the Penguins Sunday – Neal dabbled on defence – but did not make the trip to Ottawa. All three of the injured stars are expected to skate in Pittsburgh Monday as they continue their roads to return.

“They’re all progressing on the ice and doing pretty well,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.

That the Penguins have been able to sustain their excellence in the absence of the best 1-2 punch at centre in the game – not to mention the absence of defencemen Kris Letang (out due to illness) and Paul Martin – is one of the NHL’s remarkable stories this season.


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