PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Sidney Crosby's comeback remains on hold.
Despite increasing speculation that the NHL's biggest star is nearing a return from his 10-month concussion layoff, the Pittsburgh Penguins ruled Crosby out of Thursday's game at Tampa Bay.
Coach Dan Bylsma did not elaborate Wednesday on Crosby's status beyond the first game of a two-game Florida road trip. The Penguins play at the Florida Panthers on Saturday before returning home for a three-game home stand.
The Tampa Bay game will mark the 60th consecutive regular season game the 24-year-old Crosby has missed. He sat out the final 41 games of last season and hasn't appeared in any of the Penguins' 18 games this season.
Neither the Penguins nor Crosby are offering any hints when The Comeback will occur. His teammates say they rarely discuss the topic with him out of respect for his privacy.
"He's keeping everyone in the dark, just like he's keeping you guys (reporters) in the dark," Penguins centre Jordan Staal said.
Crosby last spoke to reporters on Nov. 7. Since then, the Penguins have said he will resume talking only when there is a change in his status ? in other words, when he is ready to play for the first time since Jan. 5.
The Penguins are playing consistently well even without their elite centre, going 8-2-1 in their last 11 games to build their record to an Eastern Conference-best 11-4-3. They twice rallied from two-goal deficits to beat Colorado 6-3 on Tuesday night, scoring four times in the third period.
Not that the Penguins aren't eager to welcome back an enormously talented player who, by the age of 22, had won a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medal, NHL scoring title and NHL MVP award.
"Can't wait for it to happen," said forward James Neal, whose 12 goals include at least one in each of the Penguins' eight home games.
While there has been considerable media conjecture whether Crosby prefers to return at home, on the road or against a certain opponent, the Penguins insist there are no such plans. Crosby will return, they said, as soon as he is cleared by his doctors, regardless of the locale or the opponent.
The Penguins also say they aren't trying to be secretive about Crosby's long-anticipated return, and will provide advance notice before he plays for the first time since he was driven into the boards Jan. 5 by Tampa Bay defenceman Victor Hedman.
Following that hit, the second punishing one for Crosby in a span of five days, he was diagnosed with a concussion that affects the part of the brain that controls a person's stability and movement. He experienced months of post-concussion symptoms that included sensitivity to light and loud noises, headaches and nausea, but he has not reported any such symptoms for several months.
Crosby hasn't made all of the Penguins' road trips, but is on the Florida swing in part because it is the team's annual dads' trips. The fathers of Penguins players watched Wednesday's practice at Consol Energy Center, then jumped on the charter flight to Tampa.
Next week, the Penguins play the Islanders on Monday, the Blues on Wednesday and the Senators on Friday in advance of a four-game road trip in which they face the Canadiens, Rangers, Capitals and Hurricanes.