- Associated Press - Monday, September 26, 2011

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Sidney Crosby Watch, nearing its ninth month, continues in earnest in the Steel City.

The former MVP’s every word on his health as he continues the slow recovery from concussion-like symptoms is parsed and dissected within an inch of its life. Every incremental step in the recovery process is met with what could best be described as giddy anxiousness.

How is he feeling? When will be he ready? Can he be the same player? Oh, and what’s up with his white helmet?

The truth is, Crosby feels better each day. No, he still has no timetable on when he’ll be back. Yes, he expects to play at a high level whenever he dons his iconic No. 87 jersey in a game.

As for the white helmet _ the one he wears during practices to signal he hasn’t been cleared for contact just yet _ it’s the same model helmet he’s always used. The only difference is the color. No fancy technology. No extra padding.

Crosby answers questions with his typical politeness. His teammates are just as accommodating. Though they have the most invested in Crosby’s future, they’re also the ones the least concerned about his status.

“It’s really out of our control,” Jordan Staal said. “There’s not much you can do. You can focus on what you need to do and what this team needs to do to get ready with or without Sid. Obviously we’d love to have him back but he needs to take his time and he’ll do the right thing when he’s ready to play.”

Whether he’s ready in a week, a month or a year, it doesn’t matter. With or without Crosby, the expectations don’t change.

Especially now that “Geno” is back.

Lost in the furor over Crosby’s status the last nine months has been the quiet comeback by All-Star center Evgeni Malkin, who missed the second half of last season with a knee injury.

While the hockey world spent the summer agonizing over any bit of news from Crosby, Malkin went about the business of getting back to basics.

He worked on his conditioning. He worked on his discipline and he worked on regaining some of the explosiveness that has allowed him to play Scottie Pippen to Crosby’s Michael Jordan since the 25-year-old Russian broke into the league in 2006.

By all accounts, those days are back.

Malkin was so dominant during his first two exhibition games _ scoring a goal in each _ that the rust already appears to be gone.

“You see what he brings to the lineup when he is out there,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “When he is on the ice, he is a dominant player. He controls the puck and he’s a tough player to deal with his speed, and he can be a physical player.”

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