Crosby to sit out as Penguins open season vs. Capitals
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby is back on the ice, but he won't be in the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup on Thursday when they begin their defense of the Stanley Cup.
Crosby, the Penguins' captain and arguably the NHL's best player, participated in some of the team's practice Wednesday, but his latest concussion will keep him out of the season opener against the rival Washington Capitals.
It's a game Crosby certainly didn't want to miss - the Penguins will raise their fourth Stanley Cup banner during pregame ceremonies at PPG Paints Arena. Then again, the ultra-competitive Crosby doesn't like missing a game for any reason.
Especially for this reason - a concussion, the same dreaded injury that caused him to miss big chunks of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, when Crosby was at his statistical and competitive best.
"It's a game you want to be part of but, at the same time, I think I've spent more than enough time being in this situation," Crosby said after practicing Wednesday in a yellow no-contact jersey. "I think you understand you have to be patient, you have to listen to your body. If you're ready, you're ready. If not, then you don't take any chances - and give yourself a lot better chance of not having it happen again if you treat it the right way."
The Penguins started the 2011-12 season without Crosby, going 11-6-3 before he returned briefly only to be diagnosed with a concussion yet again. As center Evgeni Malkin said, "We know how to play without Sid."
But there are signs this layoff might not be as long as those during Crosby's past concussion issues.
Crosby's latest concussion diagnosis was on Monday, but the superstar skated Tuesday and took part in drills Wednesday.
"I'm always happy when I'm on the ice," Crosby said.
And coach Mike Sullivan is hinting Crosby's time off might not be lengthy.
"As they (injured players) make progress, you add to the intensity of their workouts and see how they respond," Sullivan said. "As players respond the right way, you can take it to the next level. That's the process we've gone through here with Sid."
The Capitals, of course, know what they must do to reach the next level, and that's get past the Penguins.
Washington easily was the NHL's best regular-season team in 2015-16, accumulating 120 points - 11 more than any team in the league, and 16 more than Pittsburgh. But the Capitals lost three of five to the Penguins during the season, and then were eliminated by them in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals - the seventh in eight series they've lost to Pittsburgh.
"We have no bitterness toward Pittsburgh," Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Braden Holtby said. "They earned it, they earned the Stanley Cup. Any bitterness is toward us, how we didn't perform well enough to beat them."
On Thursday, Holtby said, the Capitals can't be thinking about what happened last year but rather what they need to do this year.
"We're going in to play our game and get two points to start off the season," he said.
But while Penguins stars Crosby and Malkin now have two Stanley Cup rings, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has yet to play in the finals - and the Penguins are a big reason why.
"I don't think we played bad, every game was a close game," Ovechkin said. "But we didn't get it done last year.
"Every year we're in the same position: We think this is the year. I think it is time to not talk, it is time to move forward."
Both teams are largely unchanged from 2015-16, a rarity during the free agency era in which clubs often undergo extensive roster alterations from season to season.
The soon-to-be 40-year-old Matt Cullen will replace Crosby on the Penguins' top line with left wing Conor Sheary and right wing Patric Hornqvist.
"You can't replace Sid. It's a group effort, to fill holes and play effectively while he's out."
The Penguins also will be without Stanley Cup-winning goalie Matt Murray, who broke a hand during the World Cup. He'll be replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury, who lost his starting job to Murray late last season after sustaining his second concussion of the season.
Fleury, who was in net when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, will start his 11th consecutive season opener for Pittsburgh, and his 12th in 13 seasons.