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(Reuters) - The puck drops on the National Hockey League's 2016-17 season on Wednesday and some teams could race out of the gate playing at a higher level than usual with many players fresh off competing in the World Cup of Hockey.
But the Pittsburgh Penguins may be forced to open defense of their Stanley Cup championship without their captain as Sidney Crosby suffered the third concussion of his glittering career.
Crosby, who was in top form as he led Canada to a World Cup triumph 12 days ago, suffered his latest setback after colliding with a teammate during practice last week and said he is taking his recovery day-by-day.
"Guys have multiple concussions and are fine," said Crosby. "I just think you have to treat them the right way and make sure that you handle it right, and that you're honest."
Crosby was solid during Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup run and carried that form into the two-week World Cup, convincing many onlookers that 29-year-old was poised to have one of the best years of his career this season.
Pittsburgh will unveil their latest Stanley Cup banner on Thursday before opening their quest to become the NHL's first repeat champion in 19 years.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will be itching to get going having been eliminated by Pittsburgh in a decisive seventh game of last season's Eastern Conference final.
Powered by prolific scorer Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay boast a top defensive pair in Swedes Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman along with strong goaltending, veterans and young talent.
In the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks are counting on a veteran roster, many of whom had their offseason cut short by competing in the World Cup, to lead them a second consecutive run to the Stanley Cup final.
But they will find plenty of challengers, including a Chicago Blackhawks team that have won three Stanley Cups in the last seven seasons.
Patrick Kane, who last season became the first American-born player to be named the NHL's most valuable player, is at the peak of his game and will lead the way for Chicago.
Among the other intriguing storylines are charismatic P.K. Subban's debut with the Nashville Predators, Edmonton Oilers phenom Connor McDavid's sophomore NHL campaign and goalie Carey Price's much anticipated return from injury to the Montreal Canadiens net.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Andrew Both