A six-game losing streak, two-game road skid, sputtering offence and a somewhat vulnerable opponent offers an ideal setting for Sidney Crosby to return to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup.
But the captain won't suit up Friday night at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., because he continues to have concussion-like symptoms that have kept the centre out of the lineup for five weeks.
"The symptoms are getting a lot better, but I wouldn't say [I'm] symptom free. But I'm allowed to lightly exert, and that's a positive," Crosby told reporters after skating for 27 minutes, shooting a few pucks and making a few passes following the Penguins' morning workout. The Penguins taped a "C" on each of their practice jerseys in tribute to Crosby.
Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion on Jan. 6, 2011 and didn't return until Nov. 21. He played eight games and collected 12 points before being re-injured against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 5, and there is no timetable for his return to game action.
Crosby admitted to having dizziness and balance problems, though the bigger issue remains how his body reacts when he's moving.
"The motion stuff has kind of been the issue from the time before and going through it a bit now," he said. "The good thing is I have a pretty good handle on it."
Crosby was short of breath while talking with reporters at his dressing room stall on Friday but said skating is "better than being on a [exercise] bike."
"There was no doubt from all accounts that he was the best player on the ice from the beginning of training camp [in mid-September] and yet it still took him until Nov. 21 to return to the lineup," CBCSports.ca senior hockey writer Tim Wharnsby told CBC News Network.
A month away?
Wharnsby doesn’t expect the pride of Cole Harbour, N.S., in the Penguins' lineup until he has skated for at least a month with his Penguins teammates.
"He’s only 24 years old, we forget about that," Wharnsby said. "He’s still got a bright future, obviously, ahead of him so he’s just going to take his time and make sure everything is 100 per cent before he comes back."
Crosby has applauded the National Hockey League's effort to crack down on dangerous plays.
"They can only do so much at the end of the day it's up to us as players," Crosby said. "It's a quick game. Things can happen … they have done a lot of good things to prevent it from happening."
He downplayed talk that the silence surrounding his condition was causing a rift in the Pittsburgh dressing room.
"I've been around hockey long enough to know this stuff goes on when you're losing," he said. "I don't think we'd be talking about it if we'd won five straight."
Crosby rejoined his teammates for the team’s three-game road trip that began with a 1-0 loss to Washington on Wednesday. They could certainly use Sid the Kid’s creativity as Pittsburgh has mustered just six goals during its losing streak.
"Ten days ago, we had won four games in a row," Penguins general manager Ray Shero told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Thursday. "Then, we lost to [Philadelphia] and started sliding. Any game, any lineup, you’ve got to believe you’re going to win."
No talk of shut down: Shero
Shero added Penguins management and coaches have never broached the subject of placing Crosby on long-term injured reserve and finding a replacement or two through trades.
The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 27 at 3 p.m. ET.
"I say to our fans, have patience with this," Shero said. "This is what he is — he’s a hockey player. There’s nothing more that he wants to do but play hockey.
"To think that I can go out and replace him with one or two players [isn’t feasible]."
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma also is without the services of defenceman Kris Letang (concussion, has resumed skating) and centre Jordan Staal, who is expected to be sidelined one month because of a knee injury.
"Thank God, we’ve had Evgeni [Malkin] playing at a top level," said Shero of the Russian forward and team leading scorer with 45 points this season.
The 21-13-8 Panthers led the Southeast Division for much of the first half of the season and remain on top despite a 4-4-2 stretch.