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Penguins notebook: Illness keeps Crosby out of exhibition finale

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Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan talks with referee Francis Charron in the first period of a preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Pittsburgh.

Sidney Crosby was unexpectedly scratched from Saturday’s exhibition finale between the Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets because of an illness, coach Mike Sullivan said.

“He came to the rink this morning, wasn’t feeling well,” Sullivan said. “We felt as though he’s played a lot of hockey to this point, through the World Cup. We’re still in the exhibition season, so we chose to hold him out.”

Sullivan said he had no reason to believe it is an ailment that will linger. The Penguins open the season Thursday with a home game against the Washington Capitals.

Crosby competed in the World Cup of Hockey last month, captaining Canada to a gold medal and winning MVP honors with 10 points in six games. The final game was played Sept. 29. After a few days off, Crosby began practicing with the Penguins last Tuesday. He did not play in any of the team’s six exhibition games.

Tough week ahead

Sullivan gave a dour assessment of his team’s performance in a 5-3 loss to Columbus. The Penguins gave up five goals in each of their last two exhibition games.

“I think we’ve got a long way to go here to get to where we want to be, to get our game to where we want to be,” Sullivan said. “I think the last couple of games, tonight was another indication of it, there just wasn’t a whole lot of attention to detail.”

As a result, defenseman Kris Letang said he expects a rough week of practice before the opener.

“At the end of the day, it’s a question of respect,” Letang said. “You want to play hard. You want to play for everybody like we did last year. We didn’t play hard. It’s going to be a hard week coming ahead, I’m pretty sure.”

Sullivan said nothing to contradict Letang’s prediction.

“You can’t just turn the switch on an off. It doesn’t work that way, at least based on my experience being around this game,” Sullivan said. “The last couple of games, we did not have the right mindset going into these games, in my opinion, to get the result that we’re looking for. We’re going to work toward that all week.”

A strong case

Scott Wilson continued his strong bid to secure a top-six forward spot, scoring a goal and recording the primary assist on two others.

Wilson led the Penguins in preseason scoring with two goals and three assists in five games. With Bryan Rust yet to return to practice because of an undisclosed injury, Wilson is the favorite to start the season on Evgeni Malkin’s wing.

“Coach told me to play north-south tonight, especially with a guy like Geno,” Wilson said. “As soon as he got the puck, I just head to the net and be ready because he can sneak anything through the defensemen.”

Flower report

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 26-of-31 shots in his final tune-up for the regular season. After playing only two games after March 31 last season, Fleury went 1-3-0 with a 3.37 goals-against average and .891 save percentage in four preseason starts.

“I think Marc’s consistency overall throughout the course of the exhibition season needs to continue to improve, but I think that’s something to be expected,” Sullivan said. “I thought in the second period tonight, he was really solid. He made some big saves for us. We didn’t give him a lot of help.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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