The Pittsburgh Penguins are suffering through one of the worst offensive droughts in franchise history. The return of Evgeni Malkin could be just what they need to end it.
The NHL's reigning scoring champion is expected to come back from a shoulder injury Saturday night at Mellon Arena, with the Penguins looking to avoid a fifth straight loss in a matchup with the Boston Bruins.
Pittsburgh (12-7-0) began the season 12-3-0, but there were problems on the horizon by the end of that stretch.
All-Star defenseman Sergei Gonchar, young forward Tyler Kennedy and Malkin -- who had 113 points last season -- went down with injuries, and the Penguins haven't gotten any healthier lately.
Kris Letang hurt his shoulder in a 5-0 loss at San Jose last Saturday and fellow defenseman Brooks Orpik left with an undisclosed injury in a 3-0 loss at Boston on Tuesday.
Pittsburgh had three players from its AHL affiliate in the lineup Thursday night as it lost 4-1 to New Jersey. The Penguins' last five-game skid was Dec. 27-Jan. 5.
The Penguins scored for the first time in 160 minutes, 41 seconds -- a stretch 10 minutes shy of the longest drought in franchise history.
"It's a matter of time," said captain Sidney Crosby, who ended his career-high pointless streak at five games by assisting on Ruslan Fedotenko's goal. "That's how hockey works, it's not always fair and it doesn't always seem like it's right. I thought there were some chances to be had and some goals to be had."
Pittsburgh went 0 for 26 on the power play in its last seven games, all of which were played without Malkin. The Penguins returned winger Chris Conner to the minors Friday, a move that paves the way for Malkin to play for the first time since Oct. 28.
Malkin scored or assisted on eight of Pittsburgh's 11 power-play goals this season.
"You are adding the point leader from last year and a playoff MVP," coach Dan Bylsma said. "It is certainly another weapon. It is not only the points, the speed and how he plays with the puck. ... There is a tenaciousness that he brings to the game that adds not just in the point totals."
The Bruins' problems are similar to Pittsburgh's, as they are converting 12.9 percent of their power-play chances -- 0.9 percent worse than the Penguins -- and missing key players due to injury.
Forwards Marc Savard and Milan Lucic aren't quite ready to return yet, but David Krejci was in Tuesday's win over Pittsburgh. After Boston (8-7-3) scored three times in that game, however, it fell 1-0 in a shootout to Florida on Thursday despite outshooting the Panthers 40-23 and 19-1 in the second period.
"We deserved the two points," said Tim Thomas, who fell to 1-3-2 in his last six games despite a 0.98 goals-against average. "They got some chances, but we got more. It is a little easier to take knowing that we won the last two."
Boston recorded points in its last four games, but was shut out three times in its last six and totaled 11 goals in its past eight.