It’s a no go for Sidney Crosby this week.
And there’s still no hint when the NHL’s marquee star will make his long-awaited comeback.
On Monday, Crosby ruled himself out of playing in either of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ games this week, meaning the earliest he could return from the concussion that has sidelined him since January is Nov. 11.
It might not be possible for Crosby to play that soon, either, even though that date has been the most mentioned when those around the NHL speculate about the Penguins captain’s return.
While Penguins coach Dan Bylsma raved about how well Crosby is practising — he said it’s at a superstar level — he cautioned that Crosby’s injury recovery still isn’t nearly complete. Most of all, Bylsma said, Crosby needs further contact work in practice.
“He’s been practising at a high level for a while,” said Bylsma, a former NHL forward. “If you watch him practice, you see speed and skill at a level that not many of us ever get to. At the same time, you have to understand the rehab, him putting good days together, getting in those (contact) situations. He’s at a high level, but he’s still in the process of rehabbing.”
The Penguins will practise as many as four times each this week and next after playing 13 games in 24 days to start the season, on-ice time that might finally allow Crosby to absorb some hits. He will not be cleared for game action until he proves to his doctors that he can handle contact during practice.
Because Crosby and his doctors, the Penguins’ medical staff and the coaches and front office all must sign off on his return, no one is daring to suggest a possible comeback date for a player who already has won an NHL MVP award, scoring title, Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medal.
Because the Penguins had so few practice days in October, Crosby’s contact in practice was minimal at best.
There weren’t many hits thrown around during an hour-long practice at a suburban rink Monday, even though the Penguins don’t play again until Thursday at San Jose. The finish up their California road swing Saturday at Los Angeles, then are off until they meet Dallas on Nov. 11.
“It’s the same old story,” Crosby said. “We haven’t had a ton of time to practise, but in the next little while there will be some opportunities.”
Crosby hasn’t missed any practice time since training camp opened Sept. 17, and he has remained symptom-free from the concussion that occurred following violent hits in successive games Jan. 1 and Jan. 5.
But practice speed doesn’t resemble game speed, and hits in practice don’t resemble those of games. As of Saturday, Crosby won’t have played in an NHL game in 10 months, and even the best of players needs time to get acclimated to game speed, contact and making plays on the fly.
“It’s not just an automatic thing,” Crosby said. “To go through hitting is a big step. I just want to make sure I get through that. It’s the most important thing – however long that takes. I don’t want to get too far ahead. I just want to make sure it goes well and (I) give myself the best chance to handle it.”
For now, everything appears to be there – the stickhandling, the speed, the adept decision-making, the instinctive ability that always seemed to make Crosby one stride ahead of everyone else on the ice. Crosby said he probably can’t get in much better shape no matter how long he practises.
“It’s about as good as it’s going to get without playing a game,” Crosby said. “You can only get to a certain point in practice. I feel like I’m in good shape. It’s not game shape. You can’t get that until you play.”
Most of Monday’s Penguins practice was devoted to shooting and skating drills, but Bylsma said there will be more game-type situational work Tuesday.
“I think I’m getting more comfortable,” Crosby said. “The more I can get in game situations, the better. I feel like each time we’ve done that, it’s gotten easier and easier. It’s a good sign.”
Penguins centre Jordan Staal (lower body injury) skated before practice after being held out of a 4-3 loss in Toronto on Saturday. He remains listed as day to day.
“I would say it still seems like he probably will be fine going forward,” Bylsma said. “But we’ll see how that works out later in the week.”