When Sidney Crosby squeezed in an on-ice workout prior to the team’s Wednesday morning skate, it seemed to indicate the Stanley Cup playoffs would begin without him. An hour later, the Penguins captain went through the paces with his teammates, leaving most observers unsure about his status for tonight’s postseason opener against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center.
Crosby cleared up the confusion after the skate, telling the assembled media that he has not received medical clearance to play with his still-mending broken jaw. Crosby had a doctor’s visit Tuesday afternoon, which went well, but not well enough to get him back in game action for the first time since March 30.
“(The doctor) said everything looks good, he just wasn’t prepared to clear me to play,” Crosby told Michelle Crechiolo of the Penguins’ website. “Obviously I would have loved to have the chance to play tonight, but it’s not the way it is and I’ll make sure I’m ready when the time comes.”
Crosby also indicated that he would participate in a game-day skate in a traditional fashion when he is cleared to play. He skated on a “fifth line” with Dustin Jeffrey and Tyler Kennedy on Wednesday and didn’t participate in power-play drills. Jussi Jokinen manned Crosby’s presumed spot between Pascal Dupuis and Jarome Iginla, while the first power-play unit featured Kris Letang and Iginla on the points with Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz up front.
Crosby mentioned that his doctor gave him no timetable for his eventual return to the ice. He’s been skating with conditioning coach Mike Kadar for two weeks and has been practicing with the team since last Thursday. Game 2 against the Islanders is scheduled for Friday night.
Top line stays together
Not only will Malkin, Neal and Kunitz presumably start every power play together, they also took line rushes as a unit at the morning skate, indicating that their reunion during last Saturday’s win over Carolina will be more than a one-off thing. The three played together for much of the 2011-12 season, when they combined for 251 points.
Malkin, Neal and Kunitz accumulated nine points in Saturday’s 8-3 victory, with Neal nailing a hat trick in his first game back after missing three weeks due to a concussion. Crosby’s continued absence made it natural to put the three back in roles that have been productive in the past.
Bennett gets his shot?
Since Kennedy skated alongside Crosby and Jeffrey on Wednesday morning, that left a right-wing spot on the fourth line for rookie Beau Bennett. The 26-year-old Kennedy played 46 games this season but was a healthy scratch last Thursday at New Jersey, hinting that coach Dan Bylsma might be looking at other options for the playoffs.
Bennett, 21, dressed for 26 games this year, his first in pro hockey after a brief career at the University of Denver. The Penguins’ first-round pick in 2010 has averaged 12:18 of ice time at the NHL level, scoring 14 points (3g, 11a).
Kennedy played 67 playoff games in his first five seasons with the Penguins, including all 24 when Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2009. He has 22 points in those contests, and his straightforward game has seemingly made him a favorite of Bylsma.
Bylsma wouldn’t confirm the status of anyone beyond Crosby, but signs point to the playmaking Bennett making his NHL playoff debut.
Penguins ratings reach new heights
As reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Kevin Gorman, the Penguins’ television success continue to explode with no ceiling in sight. In addition to posting 16 of the 20 highest local ratings in the history of the franchise this year, the Penguins reached an average of 12.66 percent of household via ROOT Sports, an all-time record for an NHL team.
Moreover, the Penguins didn’t just set an NHL mark. They also outdrew the local ratings of any NBA or MLB team, a level that a hockey club has never reached in America. Remember that when you wonder why the Pens show up on national TV so often.
Outdoor game confirmed
One of the worst-kept secrets in sports was confirmed Wednesday, as the NHL officially released information on the March 1, 2014 outdoor game between the Penguins and Blackhawks at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The league plans to unveil more outdoor dates for its new “Coors Light Stadium Series” in the coming weeks.
The Winter Classic featuring the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor is the only other outdoor game the NHL has verified, but information leaked last month about five more.