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Crosby recovery key to Pens' season

NESN Douglas Flynn
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After making back-to-back trips to the Finals and winning the Cup in 2009, the Penguins suffered their second straight early exit when they fell in the opening round to Tampa Bay this spring.

Not having injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had a lot to do with that, and the Penguins should be commended for still putting together a 106-point season without their two best players. Pittsburgh is banking on the return to health of Crosby and Malkin to propel them to an even better season and a long postseason run this year. There are still questions surrounding Crosby's recovery from a concussion, though, and any setbacks there could greatly hamper their title hopes.

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2010-11 record: 49-25-8, 106 points (2nd Atlantic Division; 4th Eastern Conference; lost in first round to Tampa Bay, 4-3)

Key additions: F Steve Sullivan (free agent); F Jason Williams (free agent); F Steve MacIntyre (free agent); F Colin McDonald (free agent); D Boris Valabik (free agent); D Alexandre Picard (free agent); G Scott Munroe (free agent)

Key losses: F Alex Kovalev (signed with Atlant Mytischi, KHL); F Maxime Talbot (signed with Philadelphia); F Michael Rupp (signed with NY Rangers); F Eric Godard (signed with Dallas); F Chris Conner (signed with Detroit); F Tim Wallace (signed with NY Islanders); D Andrew Hutchinson (signed with Barys Astana, KHL); F Mike Comrie (free agent)

Burning question: When will Crosby be ready to return to game action?

Crosby missed the final 41 games of the regular season and the playoffs after suffering a concussion in early January. The Penguins did an amazing job of continuing to pile up wins despite the loss of arguably the top player in the league in addition to their second-best player in Malkin, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in February. But their absences were felt in the first-round playoff loss to the Lightning and the Penguins know they need both players, especially Crosby, healthy to make a run at another Cup.

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That's what makes the recent news out of Pittsburgh all the more unsettling. While Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero denied reports that Crosby's offseason training had been shut down, he did acknowledge that Crosby continues to experience symptoms from the concussion and has not been cleared for contact. Crosby's availability for the start of the season won't be determined until the start of camp.

2011-12 outlook: The Penguins finished with 106 points without Crosby and Malkin playing the second half of the season. If both are healthy, Pittsburgh will be right back in the mix for another Cup. They have a solid supporting cast in place with Chris Kunitz (23-25-48 last year), James Neal (22-23-45) and Tyler Kennedy (21-24-45) leading the way up front, Kris Letang (8-42-50) emerging as an offensive force on the blue line and Marc-Andre Fleury (36-20-5, 2.32 GAA, .918 save percentage) among the top netminders in the league. Pittsburgh did lose a lot of grit and toughness this offseason with Rupp signing with the Rangers, Talbot with Philadelphia and enforcer Godard with Dallas, but the Penguins did re-sign Arron Asham and added Steve MacIntyre.

Did you know? Despite missing exactly half the season, Crosby still led the team with 66 points in 41 games. It was the first time since the lockout the Penguins didn't have a 100-point scorer. Crosby and Malkin had hit the century mark a combined six times the previous five seasons, and six other Penguins, including Mark Recchi in 2006-07, had 66 or more points in a season in that span.

Tagged: Bruins, Oilers, Penguins, Predators, Steve Sullivan, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Tim Wallace, Steve MacIntyre

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