From a competitive standpoint, the Panthers got a dose of good news out of BankAtlantic Center on Friday morning when Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said star Sidney Crosby wouldn't make his much anticipated return on Saturday.
Only the Panthers wouldn't have minded seeing Crosby come out and play.
Florida kicks off a season-long four-game homestand Saturday night against the Crosby-less Penguins.
Crosby hasn't played since suffering a pair of concussions last January, and there was plenty of speculation he would make his season debut against the Panthers.
After skating with his teammates at BankAtlantic Center, Crosby and Bylsma huddled for a few minutes. A number of media members stalked Crosby's locker waiting for some sort of news.
When Crosby finally came off the ice he politely declined comment – as he has the past few weeks – saying only nothing had changed. Bylsma made it official a few minutes later.
Crosby has been practicing with the Penguins for the past month, lending to speculation that his return is right around the corner. Bylsma updates the media on Crosby's playing status the day before each game.
On Friday he explained that Crosby's status hasn't been a distraction. Last year, the Penguins went 23-13-5 without their captain and earned the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs before being knocked out in seven games by the fifth-seeded Lightning.
Pittsburgh came into South Florida tied for the most points in the Eastern Conference even after losing 4-1 at Tampa Bay on Thursday.
“Sid has been rehabbing with us, is a part of our team,'' Bylsma said. “We know right now he's not going to be out there for us. We've been going through this for 10 months. We're about the guys who play every night. We love seeing him skating around out there and hope he rejoins us.''
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said he was “a big fan'' of Crosby on Thursday but added “my nose would grow if I said I wouldn't mind him waiting another game.'' On Friday, after being told Crosby was officially out, Dineen changed course a bit.
“I am disappointed,'' Dineen said after part of his team went through a light skate in Coral Springs. “Yes, I'm the opposing coach, but I was looking forward to seeing him play again. We all are – players, coaches and fans. It would have made our task much more difficult so there is some relief that you're not the first team to face him. .-.-. Lets not kid ourselves. He's the face of the game right now. There's a hole there not having him play.''
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said he had mixed emotions on hearing that Crosby would miss Saturday's game. On one hand, his absence helps the Panthers on the ice. On the other, everyone wants to play the best. And Crosby is arguably the best player in the league.
“You obviously want to be supportive and hope he comes back soon,'' Kulikov said. “But it's a good thing for us; one of the best players in the world isn't going to play against us.''
The Panthers will be looking for a rare win in Sunrise on Saturday. The Panthers have won just two home games this season – fewest in the league – and haven't celebrated a home win since beating the Islanders 4-2 way back on Oct. 22. Florida leads the NHL with seven road victories.
“This is huge. You have to win at home to have success in this league,'' Mike Santorelli said. “We have a big homestand and know it's a big homestand. We have to focus on each game no matter where it is. Bring it every night. We have to bear down at home.''
-- The Panthers recalled winger Michal Repik from AHL San Antonio on Saturday as center Marcel Goc will miss a second straight game with an undisclosed injury.
-- Fans attending Saturday's game are asked to bring canned or non-perishable food for the team's annual holiday food drive. Fans who donate will get 20 percent off merchandise at the new team store and one fan will win an autographed can of soup by defenseman Brian 'Soupy' Campbell. Donations will also be accepted at Monday's game.
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560
The series: Penguins lead 36-30-4
The game: The Penguins have won five straight over the Panthers including a 4-2 decision in Florida's second game of the season. Backup goalie Brent Johnson (1-2-2) is expected to start for the Pens. During its winning streak against the Panthers, Pittsburgh has yet to give up more than two goals in a game to Florida. .-.-. The Panthers won four straight road games before losing 4-1 at St. Louis on Thursday.