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Penguins without Sidney Crosby for season opener

Pittsburgh captain won't play against Capitals because of concussion, still listed as day to day

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

CAPITALS (0-0-0) at PENGUINS (0-0-0)

TV: 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports 2

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without captain Sidney Crosby when they begin defense of their Stanley Cup championship against the Washington Capitals at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday.

After practicing Wednesday for the first time since sustaining a concussion last Friday, Crosby said he was pleased with his progres, but would not rush back. Coach Mike Sullivan later confirmed Crosby would not play Thursday.

Following Pittsburgh's optional morning skate, Sullivan said Crosby's recovery remains day to day.

Without Crosby, the Penguins will likely move center Matt Cullen to Crosby's usual position between left wing Conor Sheary and right wing Patric Hornqvist. Cullen, 39, had 32 points (16 goals) in his first season with Pittsburgh.

"[Cullen is] really smart and he was a big part of our success last year," Hornqvist said. "That fourth line, I don't know if you can even call it a fourth line. They play like a second or third line. He's great. He really knows how to dish the puck and play smart, so I'm looking forward to playing with him there tonight."

Cullen normally centers the fourth line, a role that Eric Fehr will fill against Washington. Fehr's usual role is as the fourth-line right wing.

"Not much of a transition," he said. "We had a lot of centermen missing training camp, so I played center most of training camp. It's probably a bit fresher in my mind than wing, even."

The Penguins will likely rely on their top two lines to provide an offensive spark against the Capitals.

Center Evgeni Malkin will attempt to build on his performance last Saturday, when he had two points against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The "HBK Line" of Nick Bonino centering left wing Carl Hagelin and right wing Phil Kessel is also expected to produce coming off an impressive Stanley Cup run.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who was an assistant for Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and saw Crosby win the MVP award, said the Penguins remain formidable without him.

"He's one of the best players in the National Hockey League," Trotz said. "I got to see him up close and personal in the World Cup. He's a fantastic player. Obviously, they have a 1-2-3 punch and now they have a 1-2 punch. So it's too bad he's injured. He's a big piece for them, and he's their leader.

"We'll just have to deal with what we have in front of us tonight."

The healthy Capitals will attempt to spoil the Penguins banner-raising ceremony five months after losing their Eastern Conference Second series to Pittsburgh in six games. Washington will look relatively similar, with the exception of adding forwards Lars Eller and Zachary Sanford.

Sanford could make his NHL debut to the left of Eller at center and right wing Justin Williams.

Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said he could give Sanford some advice before the game.

"It's a dream come true to play in the NHL," Ovechkin said. "I'm pretty sure all the guys who play their first game in the League, it's going to be special for them."


Capitals projected lineup

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson

Zachary Sanford - Lars Eller - Justin Williams

Daniel Winnik - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Dmitri Orlov - John Carlson

Brooks Orpik - Nate Schmidt

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

Scratched: Brett Connolly, Taylor Chorney

Injured: None

Penguins projected lineup

Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - Scott Wilson

Carl Hagelin - Nick Bonino - Phil Kessel

Conor Sheary - Matt Cullen - Patric Hornqvist

Tom Kuhnhackl - Eric Fehr - Tom Sestito

Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang

Olli Maatta - Trevor Daley

Ian Cole - Justin Schultz

Marc-Andre Fleury

Mike Condon

Scratched: Derrick Pouliot

Injured: Sidney Crosby (concussion), Matt Murray (broken hand), Bryan Rust (undisclosed)


Status report

Rust, who returned to practice from an undisclosed injury on Wednesday, isn't likely to play. Sullivan said he would like Rust to practice a few more times before he returns to the lineup. Rust participated in the morning skate.


Who's hot

Scott Wilson scored two points, including his second preseason goal, against the Blue Jackets on Saturday. He also assisted on Malkin's goal with 8:25 remaining in the second period. … Ovechkin scored two points (one goal, one assist) in Washington's final preseason game against the New York Islanders on Sunday.

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