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Penguins confident they can win without Sidney Crosby

Evgeni Malkin among those who must step up while Pittsburgh captain is sidelined with concussion

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin captured how most of his teammates felt when they heard Sidney Crosby sustained a concussion.

After practicing at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex on Tuesday, Malkin admitted he was "a little bit nervous" when he was informed Crosby was concussed during a Friday practice. His spirits slightly lifted Tuesday morning, when Crosby skated before practice and said he felt "pretty good" after.

"Who knows how long? It's a little bit tough," Malkin said of Crosby's absence. "We know the history with Sid. But he skated today. It's a good sign. I hope everything is good. We know how tough Sid is. He loves to play. He loves to be here with his teammates. I hope it's not a long time. I hope it's one, maybe zero, games."

If Crosby does miss significant time, much of the attention will turn to Malkin. That won't be anything new; Malkin thrived during the 2011-12 season by scoring 50 goals and finishing with 109 points on his way to the Hart and Art Ross trophies while Crosby missed 60 games because of concussion-related issues.

"We know how we can play better with Sid, but we can play better without Sid too," Malkin said. "It's our leadership. We have great teammates and a great leadership group here -- [forward Chris Kunitz], [defenseman Kris Letang], myself -- we know how we play without Sid.

Video: CBJ@PIT: Letang snaps one over Bobrovsky's glove

"I played before when Sid was out for a long time, but I just play my game. We have a great line. We have a great team. Maybe I will play a little bit more on the ice, but it's not like much pressure. The first game against Washington [on opening night] will be a tough game, but I'm ready to play."

Malkin's teammates feel similarly, including Kunitz, who has played on Crosby's line at various points for several seasons.

Kunitz said he was not aware of the concussion until Saturday, when Crosby notified the trainers that he experienced headaches when he awoke before arriving at PPG Paints Arena.

Given Crosby's concussion history, Kunitz said he thinks Crosby will be "the best one to deal with a comeback" because he is familiar with the process. Crosby missed 101 games in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 regular seasons because of concussion-related issues, which Kunitz believes helped spread awareness.

"I think everybody in the League learned a lot," Kunitz said. "It wasn't too long ago where a concussion was just a bump and you'd put a guy back out there. Now, there are different things involved with how guys recover and what they need to do to recover on their own. He's one of the guys who had to go through it, so I think he's one of the guys who touches base with other guys in the League who have had major concussions and talks them through it."

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan did not disclose how he would adjust the lineup if Crosby is unable to play in Pittsburgh's season opener against the Washington Capitals at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports 2), but said forward Eric Fehr could move to center.

Fehr normally plays fourth-line right wing alongside center Matt Cullen and left wing Tom Kuhnhackl.

"I'm not going to lie. It's nice when you can get a bit of a comfort level with the position you're at," Fehr said, "but in this game, it's not always easy to do that with injuries and whatever else comes into play. Whatever position I'm going to be, I'll be prepared for it."

Pittsburgh overcame several injuries last season on its way to the Stanley Cup, including two concussions to starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and an elbow injury to Malkin that ended his regular season on March 11. Sullivan said that experience has helped prepare the Penguins to play without their captain.

"We were able to continue to find ways to have success and improve as a team," Sullivan said. "As I've always told the guys, we never like to see any of our guys go down with injuries, but we understand that it's part of the business and when that does occur, it provides opportunities for others to step up."

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