PITTSBURGH — The waiting game is on again for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Just like a child awaiting Christmas, the Penguins know there's going to be a major payoff in the end -- if only they're patient.
Sidney Crosby is practicing, absorbing hits from teammates and rounding back into game shape. And his return from the concussion-like symptoms that idled him for three months now appears to be days away.
With the Penguins already on a six-game winning streak going into a game Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it might be easy to get distracted. After all, the Penguins have had the NHL's biggest star in their lineup for only eight games in the last 15 months, and having him back should prove even more rewarding than any deal general manager Ray Shero could have pulled off at the NHL Trade Deadline last week.
Again, if only they're patient.
But could his return be a distraction? Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury says never.
"Sid's been a part of this team for a long time," Fleury said.
Dan Bylsma said every NHL coach would love to have this problem: Where does Sidney Crosby play when he returns?
"Great, great problem to ponder to think about, what line he would fit on," Bylsma said Wednesday. "Certainly, the (Chris) Kunitz-(Evgeni) Malkin-(James) Neal line has been spectacular and probably has been the best line in hockey the last two, two-and-a-half months. Having Sidney Crosby in that mix, the best player in the world, certainly is nice to ponder. Sid has been working hard, and at the trade deadline, there was talk he could be the best acquisition you could ever make. We've won some hockey games but we all know that adding that into our lineup would be the best acquisition we could make, and we welcome that sooner than later."
Bylsma has had discussions with Crosby about his possible linemates when he returns, but no final determination has been made.
Crosby talked with reporters following the morning skate but did not tip his hand as to a possible return date. On Tuesday, he said it won't be until Sunday at the earliest.
The Penguins try to keep their momentum going against the Maple Leafs, who lost 5-4 to Boston in new coach Randy Carlyle's home debut Tuesday night. The Maple Leafs not only lost a game -- their seventh loss in eight games -- but also lost forwards Joffrey Lupul (upper-body injury) and Colby Armstrong (nose) to injuries, and neither is expected to play Wednesday.
Playing back-to-back games, the Maple Leafs did not hold a morning skate, although their extra players did skate at Consol Energy Center. Because of the Lupul and Armstrong injuries, they brought rookie forward Carter Ashton with them to Pittsburgh.
Ashton, a Tampa Bay draft pick and the son of former NHL player Brent Ashton, was acquired in a trade deadline deal that sent defenseman Keith Aulie to Tampa Bay. Ashton has 20 goals and 17 assists in the minors this season and would be making his NHL debut.
The Penguins will start rookie Brad Thiessen in goal -- only his second NHL start. He beat Columbus 4-2 in his NHL debut on Feb. 26, stopping 24 of 26 shots. Rick Nash scored shorthanded for the first goal against Thiessen in the League.
Here are the likely lineups for the fourth and final meeting between the teams this season; the Penguins won the first three, including one in a shootout:
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Craig Adams - Richard Park
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Paul Martin - Matt Niskanen
Deryk Engelland - Ben Lovejoy
Matt Frattin - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Nikolai Kulemin - Mikhail Grabovski - Clarke MacArthur
Carter Ashton - David Steckel - Tim Connolly
Jay Rosehill - Matthew Lombardi - Joey Crabb\Mike Brown
Dion Phaneuf - Carl Gunnarsson
John-Michael Liles - Mike Komisarek
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn
Carlyle did not announce his goaltender in advance, but Reimer is 2-0-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average in his career against Pittsburgh. Gustavsson has started the last three games.