Crosby anxious to hit the ice again
Sidney Crosby claims that he’s been jostled in practice a few times in recent weeks, at one point even getting sent into the boards in a collision just a few days ago.
Those hits were initiated by his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates, who may have to find employment elsewhere if a hard check resulted in another setback in the team captain’s nearly 11-month-long concussion recovery. The New York Islanders don’t have to be as kind as Crosby plays in his first game since Jan. 5 at Consol Energy Center on Monday night.
“Anybody who has gone through this will tell you they’re a little anxious to get this first couple of hits in, whether it’s giving them or taking them,” Crosby said after the team’s morning skate. “After that, things should be pretty normal.”
Crosby was cleared by doctors on Sunday after he completed an impact test, a cognitive assessment that compared where he is now to baseline readings taken before the two collisions early last January put hockey’s biggest star on the shelf. His comeback had been riddled with setbacks before he was cleared to return to practice in training camp and then given the go-ahead for full-contact practices on Oct. 13.
“Now it’s the easy part: you just go out and play,” Crosby said. “When you’re getting ready (to return), that’s the tough part. You try to go through each step and through each stage. Now, you just have to go out there and do it.”
And it will be against a team that has won only two of its last 13 games, the last loss being a 6-0 thumping by the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on Saturday. The Islanders will be starting a rookie goalie (Anders Nilsson) with all of two periods of NHL experience. Still, the Islanders players talked a good game — a tough one even — before Monday’s faceoff.
“I think you have to play physical on him,” Islanders forward Matt Martin said. “If you go out there and take it easy on him, he’ll make you look silly. He has that much skill. You have to treat him like any other player. He’s cleared to play. We’re not going out there trying to take his head off. Nobody wants to be that guy.”
Crosby, a former league MVP, returns with some new teammates (forward James Neal and Arron Asham were acquired after Crosby went down) and minus another from the team’s 2009 Stanley Cup-winning squad (Max Talbot signed with the Philadelphia Flyers). But Penguins coach Dan Bylsma will put Crosby together with a few wingers he’s very familiar with in Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
“I don’t expect him to tiptoe around,” Kunitz said. “I think he’s going to do some great thing from the get-go.”
Bylsma said that Crosby told him jokingly that he’s up for playing 12 minutes, nine minutes under his career average.
“There isn’t a set goal,” Bylsma said. “The more power play time we get, the more time he’ll have on the ice. He’ll also have that adrenaline going that first time he gets out there. We’ll monitor him a little.”
The whole hockey world, which has been changed by not only Crosby’s absence due to a concussion but with the overall focus on head injuries in recent months, will do so as well.