BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Penguins center Sidney Crosby still isn't ready to target a game in which he hopes to return from a high ankle sprain.
But he won't rule out being back in the lineup earlier than his original prognosis suggested, either.
After Crosby got a high ankle sprain a month ago against Tampa Bay, he was told that he would be out 6-8 weeks. Crosby said yesterday that being back within six weeks of his injury "is what I'm hoping for," and that "it's possible" he could resume playing sooner.
Feb. 29, which falls between games in Boston and Ottawa, will be the six-week anniversary of Crosby's injury.
Despite his optimism, Crosby was adamant that he has not set a specific game for which he hopes to return.
"If I told you the dates, I probably would have given you eight different dates by now," he said. "Every day, it changes. You feel good one day, and all of a sudden, you think you'll be back tomorrow, and the next day, you realize it still needs time."
The decision on when he will play again, Crosby added, will be made mostly by him, mostly for practical reasons. For while doctors and the medical staff can evaluate the strength and stability of his leg, only he can know precisely how it feels.
"They can't test [the impact of] a guy falling on my foot, or me sliding into something," he said. "The main thing is for the stability to be there.
"It's pretty much up to me at the end of the day. I'm the one who has to go out there."
Crosby acknowledged the perils of returning too quickly -- "I don't want it to be one of those things where I come back and play one [game], then sit out a few more," he said -- but said he has accepted that he'll be playing with pain.
"It's not going to be perfect," he said. "It's going to be sore. The main thing is, when I come back, I want to make sure the stability is there. I know the pain's going to be there. As long as I know that pain is wear-and-tear and not something that's going to have me sit out any longer, that's the main thing."
He was on the ice during and after the Penguins' optional morning skate at HSBC Arena yesterday, and said he has tested his ankle about as severely as he can without facing actual opponents.
"At practice, you have a few battles," he said. "In a game, it's every shift."
If the Sabres are unable to sign defenseman Brian Campbell, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, to a contract extension before the NHL trade deadline next Tuesday, he figures to be one of the most coveted commodities on the market.
Campbell has solid offensive skills, but he entered the game last night without a goal in the past 20 games, his most recent having come against the Penguins in the outdoor game at Ralph Wilson Stadium Jan. 1.
What's more, his defensive work has been criticized in some quarters here -- he was on the ice for the first four New York Rangers goals in the Sabres' 5-1 loss at Madison Square Garden Saturday -- and the uncertainty about his future seems to be affecting his performance.
"I had a discussion with Brian [yesterday morning]," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "You can't lose focus on being a defender first. ... You defend first, then you take your options after that.
"That twosome [with Jaroslav Spacek], as defenders, hasn't done a very good job. ... But I'm not worried. Brian is as mad as anybody about some of his plays, and he's the type of guy who usually, when he deals with some adversity, is better [for it]."
Sabres right winger Patrick Kaleta, who grew up in the Buffalo suburb of Angola, is the third player from this area to wear his hometown team's sweater.
"It's amazing, going in front of the crowd with the team you grew up watching," he said.
Kaleta, who still lives with his parents, got his first NHL goal against Florida at HSBC Arena Feb. 10.
"That was a pretty special moment," he said.
For the moment, however, he is paying more attention to the professional aspects of his job than the personal ones.
"It's a dream come true," Kaleta said.
"But I have to put that behind me and focus on each game as we go on. We need some points."