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Sid not symptom-free yet, no timetable on return

by Arpon Basu
MONTREAL -- Sidney Crosby is still feeling the effects of his concussion, and until those go away there is no point discussing his possible return, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Wednesday.

"I believe he's getting tested again this week, and he's getting better," Bylsma told reporters at the Bell Centre in advance of Wednesday night's match-up against the Montreal Canadiens. "But we're not going to progress forward until the symptoms subside."

Bylsma first announced Crosby's concussion in this very same building last Thursday, at which point he said Crosby would be out at least a week.

It appears now that it could be some time longer than that, with games looming in Boston on Saturday and at home to the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings next Tuesday.

A return to action for Crosby probably can't come soon enough for Bylsma, as he's watched his team go 0-2-1 with only 3 goals scored and 10 against in his absence.

Last season the Penguins suffered an overtime loss in the only game Crosby missed, but over the two seasons prior to that Pittsburgh went a combined 21-9-4 playing without him.

"We haven't gotten to the front of the net very well, we haven't gotten extended offensive zone time the way we like to do as a team, with or without Sidney," Bylsma said. "It's a mentality. Sometimes, guys who are pressing to score go farther away from the net to get the puck, and the opposite needs to happen. You need to get to the dirty areas."

But Bylsma sees no quit in his players in spite of missing their captain. In fact, he sees them more focused than ever.

"I actually sense a determination to win hockey games without him," Bylsma said. "We're a good hockey team. We have good players, and those players in there want to prove it."

One who may want to prove it more than others is rookie Mark Letestu, who has slid into a spot on Pittsburgh's top power-play unit as a replacement for Crosby -- even though the word "replacement" isn't quite fair.

"It's an opportunity for me to show I can play there," Letestu said. "Obviously when (Crosby) comes back he'll step back in there, but hopefully it gives them some peace of mind that I can step in there and fill that role."

Letestu busted out of the gates this season with 4 goals and 3 assists in his first seven games, but then took another 22 games to score his next goal.

"I wouldn't say I was playing over my head, but I was definitely exceeding expectations," Letestu said of his rocket start. "I started getting a lot of media attention that I wasn't used to, and maybe I started reading a little too much into that."

Letestu has been held off the score sheet in the 3 games Crosby has missed, and the power play is an underwhelming 1-for-12 over that span. Without saying so explicitly, Bylsma hinted he could use a little more out of the rookie in this time of need.

"Saying it (to Letestu) or not saying it, he knows he has a chance to play with some good players and get some work done," Bylsma said. "He's done some good things for us, but this is a real opportunity to show what he can do, and he knows he's in that situation."

"I believe he's getting tested again this week, and he's getting better, but we're not going to progress forward until the symptoms subside." -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma

Bylsma will make one change that he experimented with in Monday's heartbreaking 4-2 loss to the Bruins, where Pittsburgh allowed 4 goals in the final 3:23 of regulation to blow a 2-0 lead.

Evgeni Malkin will move off of Jordan Staal's wing and center Crosby's usual line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, while Staal will play with Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke. Letestu, meanwhile, will have new linemates for a third straight game as he'll play with Arron Asham and Craig Adams.

"We just are not strong down the middle without Sid there," Bylsma said. "Geno, minus the faceoff circle, is good in that position on the ice and is a threat there."

After backup Brent Johnson allowed only a goal in regulation time of the 2-1 shootout loss to the Canadiens last week, Bylsma is coming back with his No. 1 Marc-Andre Fleury in this one.

"It was a bit different, but it was fine," Fleury said of sitting out a game in his home province. "I like playing here and it was a bit disappointing to not play, but I told myself it's a long season."

Fleury has a career mark of 9-7-1 with a 3.44 goals against average and .886 save percentage against the Canadiens, and that's not counting last season's playoffs when he had a 3-4 record with a 2.83 GAA and .892 save percentage in the seven-game loss to Montreal.

The Canadiens will be without sniper Michael Cammalleri, who is still fighting a flu bug that will cost him a second game.

Cammalleri skated Wednesday morning with five of his teammates as Montreal held an optional practice after arriving at 1 a.m. from New York, where the Canadiens beat the Rangers 2-1 on Tuesday. But Cammalleri was sent home immediately after the skate and ruled out for the game.

Carey Price will be in goal after sitting out the Rangers game. Conversely to Fleury, Price has a 6-4-0 career record against Pittsburgh with a 2.68 GAA and .916 save percentage. This season, Price is 2-0-0 against the Penguins with a 1.44 GAA and .957 save percentage.

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