OTTAWA -- Dan Bylsma still hasn't seen everything that he expects to from Sidney Crosby.
But he sure seems to like everything he has seen since Crosby returned from a soft-tissue neck injury that forced him to sit out 40 games.
The Penguins game against Ottawa Saturday night at Scotiabank Place was Crosby's sixth, and Bylsma, the Penguins coach, said the layoff hasn't had a major impact on his performance.
"Frankly, the guy hasn't looked like he's sat out [most of] 18 months," he said. "He looks like Sidney Crosby, the guy who has played in traffic areas, played with the puck, won puck battles down low in the defensive zone."
Crosby got nine assists in the first five games of his comeback, even though he had yet to reach the 21-minute mark that Bylsma anticipates him playing as a matter of course when he takes on a full workload.
"He's still not going out in every position that you would normally put him in," Bylsma said. "He hasn't played a lot of hockey in the last 18 months. Each game, he's trying to get better in different situations."
Bylsma seems especially pleased with how Crosby has dealt with the contact he has faced since returning and how he hasn't changed his game to avoid it.
"I actually think he's handling that situation, physicality, even better than in November, when he came back [from a concussion]," Bylsma said. "It really hasn't been an issue.
"It hasn't been an issue how he's played defense and how he's gone after pucks. It's not an issue [in] some of the traffic areas, faceoffs and in and around the net."
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin has established himself as the odds-on favorite to win the NHL scoring championship and might be the front-runner to win the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player, too.
Senators right winger Daniel Alfredsson doesn't have a vote for MVP, of course, but it seems clear Malkin would be his choice if he did.
"He's been nothing short of spectacular this season," Alfredsson said. "He seems to be able to create offense at will out there."
New Jersey center Travis Zajac, who has missed the past 37 games because of soreness in his left Achilles, is expected to rejoin the Devils' lineup when they visit Consol Energy Center tonight.
Zajac, who has one goal and two assists in eight games this season, is expected to play between wingers Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei Ponikarovsky, although Devils coach Peter DeBoer told local reporters that decision won't be made until today.
Zajac missed the start of the season after tearing his Achilles while training in the offseason.
Senators goalie Ben Bishop was born in Denver but grew up in St. Louis, where he got to know Penguins center Joe Vitale while playing youth hockey.
"He was always on the other team," Bishop said Saturday.
That proved to be the case when they went to college, too, although Bishop, who played at Maine, said that wasn't the way he hoped it would turn out after he committed to the Black Bears.
"Our coaches were asking about him," Bishop said. "I was like, 'You've got to get him, you've got to get him.' They wanted him, but he ended up going to Northeastern."
Vitale didn't play against the Senators because of an apparent shoulder injury, but has established himself as an NHL-caliber talent while appearing in 63 games this season.
"He's a great player and a good kid," Bishop said. "And it doesn't surprise me at all where he is."
The Penguins scratched Vitale, center Richard Park, left winger Dustin Jeffrey, defenseman Matt Niskanen (undisclosed) and goalie Brent Johnson (undisclosed). ... Penguins goalie Brad Thiessen, who made his fourth NHL start Saturday, on being comfortable at this level: "It definitely helps, being out and practicing every day with these guys. We have some pretty good players here."