The Washington Times - October 13, 2011, 10:43AM

PITTSBURGH, Pa. | Let the speculation commence.

At the beginning of the Penguins’ morning skate at Consol Energy Center, players tapped their sticks on the ice following an announcement of some sort from coach Dan Bylsma.

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Star Sidney Crosby, who hasn’t played since January with post-concussion symptoms, had been wearing various-colored helmet in practices (most recently white) signifying no-contact. Thursday morning his helmet was black. He confirmed that he was cleared for “full contact.”

Star Evgeni Malkin was taking regular shifts, possibly a sign he’s ready to return after a two-game absence with a lower-body injury.

Bylsma updated the conditions of both players afterward, calling Malkin a game-time decision and noting that Crosby was on the power play and taking shifts just to get him acclimated to the game again.

Without Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins have thrived. They’re 20-11-5 without both since Malkin went out of the lineup with a severe right knee injury in early February.