Sidney Crosby greeted his first game in 320 days — time often filled with headaches, dizziness and frustration — with a double fist pump and an exclamation that you probably wouldn’t want your kids to repeat.
It came after the Pittsburgh Penguins captain scored 5 minutes, 24 seconds into Monday’s contest en route to a four-point night in his return from a concussion-induced layoff. He bookended the night with the game’s final goal as he spun away way from New York Islanders defender Milan Jurcina, finishing with a pair goals and pair of assists in a 5-0 victory at Consol Energy Center.
"I was obviously really excited," Crosby said. "Part of waiting to play is that you are also waiting to get that first one. It came pretty early, which was nice. I was watching the replay and read my lips. Hopefully everyone wasn’t reading lips at home. I couldn’t hold that in."
But just as importantly, Crosby successfully absorbed a few checks in his 21 shifts that totaled 15:54 of ice time.
Crosby, cleared to play by doctors on Sunday, drew a crosschecking penalty in the first period in front of the Islanders’ net, a place he didn’t shy away from during his first contest since Jan. 5. (Jurcina was called for a penalty.) But he took an even bigger check moments later when Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic delivered a hard — and legal — check in the corner.
Neurosurgeon Robert Harbaugh, a member of an NFL committee studying the longer-term effects of concussions, said Crosby is only at a slightly more elevated risk of another concussion at this point.
“The time from his last concussion doesn’t significantly affect his chance for another concussive episode,” Harbaugh said. “In other words, if he returned to play at six months or two years, his risk would be the same.”
Dr. Matthew Gammons, team physician for the US Ski/Snowboard team, told FOXSports.com that Crosby rose above what expected for an athlete that has competed in nearly 11 months.
“I am sure management and the medical staff breathed a collective sigh of relief when the game was over,” Gammons said. “The fact that he played well with no signs of any issues was enough, but four points is icing on the cake. It certainly looks like he is back but we will have to wait and see how he does against better and more physical teams.”
Concern over Crosby’s brain waned as we again watched arguably the game’s most dynamic player glide around the ice.
Crosby scored his first goal since Dec. 28, 2010 by using his wheels to pull free from Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald and flip a backhand over the glove hand of rookie goalie Anders Nilsson.
“I gave him the puck and he made it happen,” said Pascal Dupuis, who later assisted on Crosby’s other goal. “You can’t teach that kind of speed. You didn’t expect (that) from him. He comes back after being out for 10-1/2 months and scores four points. He was a force out there. It looked like he didn’t miss a beat.”
The ovation that resulted in the tally — which came on Crosby’s third shift of the game — was deafening and likely the loudest a Pens regular-season home game has been since Mario Lemieux returned from a three-plus-season retirement across the street at the Igloo in 2000.
“I don’t have good words for it,” Pens coach Dan Bylsma said. “That was special in a lot of ways. It was special to see him step on the ice for warm-ups before the game and (then) the opening announcement. The first faceoff, he battles like it’s the last draw of the season. There were lots of things that were special about the evening.”
Lemieux, the team’s co-owner and managing partner, and Crosby’s longtime landlord, assisted on a Jaromir Jagr goal 33 seconds into regulation that night in December 2000. Lemieux’s return, however, wasn’t quite as successful as Crosby’s; he finished with three points (a goal and two assists).
Crosby’s first assist came on a backhanded pass from the faceoff circle to the point, where a wide-open Brooks Orpik one-timed the puck past Nilsson with 3:31 left in the first period. He had the secondary assist after Kris Letang fed the puck to Evgeni Malkin 3:17 into the second period on the power play.
Crosby could have easily gotten closer to equaling or even surpassing his career high (six points) had it not been for a couple missed chances, like when Chris Kunitz hit crossbar on what would have been a Crosby assist in the first period.
Crosby’s bid for his first hat trick since Dec. 2, 2010, was denied by Nilsson on a wrist shot midway through the third. Crosby finished with eight shots, the most by a player on either team.
“Crosby! Crosby!” chants began minutes before the puck dropped. “Let’s Go Sid!” calls and, eventually, “MVP” chants followed. And why not? At this rate, he’d finish with 248 points — a mark that is just slightly unrealistic, even if played against hapless times like the Islanders every night. The Islanders have now lost 12 of their last 14 games.
Toronto’s Phil Kessel currently leads the NHL scoring race with 29 points. After what transpired here Monday night, maybe Crosby can mount a challenge for his second Art Ross Trophy that goes to the league’s scoring champ.
“I’m not going to make any predictions on that,” Bylsma said. “We have 61 games left and his pace is pretty good right now.”