The news out of Pittsburgh on the return of Sidney Crosby is that there is no real news and no imminent timetable. While rumors and innuendo fly around the internet at the speed of light, the latest reliable report from USA Today is that Sidney Crosby is continuing to recover from concussion symptoms while visiting his family in Nova Scotia. On Monday, Coach Dan Bylsma indicated that there was (at some point) an expectation that Crosby would return this week, but then added that “there wasn’t a definite date or definite day”. He then went on to reveal that Crosby’s recent contact with the team has been through the Penguins’ training staff and that there is no timeframe for his return. This all points to the likelihood that Crosby still continues to experience some level of side effects from the “mild” concussion that he incurred over a month ago. Despite his importance to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the organization is wise to bide their time with this type of injury. Attaining full recovery before returning to action is vital to his long term health as has been observed in other cases, perhaps most recently notable being that of Marc Savard.
The pressure for the Penguins to get Crosby back in the lineup will soon be palpable, however, with the recent loss of Evgeni Malkin to torn knee ligaments. It is most likely that Malkin will be out of the Penguins lineup through the fall of 2011, with virtually no chance of returning for a potential playoff run. Yet another Center, Mark Letestu, will be out of the lineup for the next four to six weeks after surgery on his knee to repair his meniscus. Chris Kunitz and Aaron Asham are also out of the lineup with unspecified injuries.
While the Penguins have held their own through most of January without Crosby, the team is starting to deplete its talent pool as other players fall out of the lineup due to injury. With losses to Washington on Sunday and the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night, the injuries might well be starting to take their toll on a team that has played very well through this part of the season. It is this last stretch of the season where playoff positions are won or lost, and one has to ask whether the Penguins can hold on to their hard earned success to date in the standings. Adversity is always good for team development, but too much of it can become difficult to overcome. For a team that is built down the center, the Penguins suddenly find themselves in sparse and uncomfortable territory with Crosby, Malkin, and Letestu out of the rotation.
The Penguins will need to find a way to get a shot of adrenaline, whether by trade….return of a healthy Crosby….or someone like Staal stepping to the forefront to put the team on his back. As the trade deadline nears, Ray Shero will have to decide what is best for the team under these circumstances, and his options have certainly opened up in terms of the salary cap constraints. Shero will be faced with questions about the timing of Crosby’s return and whether he will be able to return to form inside of this season. He will also have to make decisions with an eye to next year when Malkin returns to service, and how he positions the team for next season. Fortunately for Shero, with a healthy defense and goaltending, he can focus on shoring up his stable of forwards for the short run while things play out on the injury front.