Sidney Crosby in good spirits, unsure of return
Pens star recovering, teammate James Neal has concussion
Lacing on hockey skates is going to have to wait. At this point, Sidney Crosby would settle for a meal that didn't require a straw.
The Pittsburgh Penguins star and his surgically repaired mouth remain on a liquid diet as he recovers from a broken jaw sustained in a win over the New York Islanders on March 30. The NHL's leading scorer remains sidelined indefinitely and has not been cleared to return to practice.
Crosby — sporting a handful of new teeth — spoke on Monday for the first time since taking a puck to the face in the first period against the Islanders when a slapshot from teammate Brooks Orpik was re-directed at Crosby's face. He crumpled to the ice immediately and spent two days in the hospital while doctors repaired his jaw and tried to minimize the damage.
"I felt it but I didn't see it," said Crosby, whose 56 points are tops in the league. "It was kind of a weird bounce and just one of those things that happen and having gone a week or however long it's been now, it's gotten better. I feel a lot better than I did after it happened."
Even if Crosby remains unsure when he'll be back on the ice. He expects to meet with doctors later this week but will not be a part of Pittsburgh's three-game road trip that begins on Tuesday in Carolina.
"We'll see how it heals and it will be a process here the next little bit but I'm not too worried about the teeth," Crosby said. "I'm worried about making sure I'm healed and hopefully that's sooner rather than later."
There has been no indication the concussion-like symptoms that sidelined Crosby for the better part of two seasons have returned. The only side effect he's concerned about at the moment is the inability to chew solid food.
Crosby has been living on milkshakes for the last nine days and admitted keeping weight on is "impossible."
"It hasn't been too enjoyable," he added with a laugh.
The Penguins do have the luxury of time. They clinched a playoff spot on Sunday night and barring an epic collapse will win the Atlantic Division with ease. That gives them more than three weeks to get healthy before the post-season begins, though the injured list continues to grow.
Forward James Neal did not practice on Monday and will miss Pittsburgh's road swing with a concussion. Neal took an elbow to the head from New York's Michael Del Zotto in the third period of a 2-1 shootout victory last Friday. He did not play the final 8 ½ minutes of regulation or the overtime period.
Neal was battling for a puck near the New York net when Del Zotto — who had his back to Neal — struck Neal in the head. Del Zotto was not disciplined by the NHL office and Neal's teammates declined to speculate on whether the hit was dirty.
Letang still out, too
"I just know from my past experience, I know I'll be in that situation that Del Zotto was in," Orpik said. "You try to look at it from both sides. I was surprised there wasn't at least a hearing."
Coach Dan Bylsma says he has no feel for how long Neal will be out. Neal has 18 goals and 14 assists in 39 games. Chris Kunitz will replace Neal on the second line and be paired with reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin and newly acquired forward Jarome Iginla.
"There's definitely a void on the ice, in the locker room [without Neal]," Kunitz said. "He's the kind of guy that will come around and chirp guys, make things a little lighter in the dressing room. On the ice, his ability to create space for himself and shoot a puck is something this team hasn't seen for awhile."
The news isn't quite so bad for defenceman Kris Letang, who skated with his teammates for the first since sustaining a lower body injury last month. Letang has missed Pittsburgh's last five games but could be ready sometime this week.
"I don't know, it'll be up to the coach," Letang said. "There's no rush to get back, but at the same time it's a short season. I want to start playing, being healthy and ready to go for the playoffs."
The Crosby injury file
Not unlike the protagonist from Road House, Crosby might want to consider carrying around his medical file. A look at the Penguins star's injury history:
March 16, 2007: Crosby fractures a bone in his left foot blocking a shot in a win over Montreal. The injury isn't revealed until after Pittsburgh's first-round playoff loss to Ottawa, preventing him from dressing for Canada at the world championships.
Jan 18, 2008: Crosby slides feet first into the boards and sustains a high ankle sprain, causing him to miss the all-star game. He returns on March 4 but misses another several games later in the month, likely costing him a shot at the scoring championship and other individual trophies.
June 2009: In the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final, Crosby injures his knee in the second period. He plays sparingly and as a decoy in the third, with Pittsburgh nearly allowing a goal on one of his shifts but holding on to beat Detroit.
Jan. 1-5, 2011: David Steckel of Washington skates into an unsuspecting Crosby's head during the Winter Classic at Heinz Field. Crosby plays the next game, but is hit high into the boards by Tampa Bay defenceman Victor Hedman. The Penguins captain misses the rest of the season with concussion woes.
Sept. 2011: Weeks after it was learned that Crosby visited concussion specialists in Georgia and Michigan, the star player vows at a remarkable training camp press conference that includes participation from multiple doctors that he'll play in the upcoming season, though he can't say when.
Dec. 5, 2011: After racking up 12 points in seven games upon his return, Crosby collides with Boston's David Krejci in his eighth game back, leading to another long stay on the sidelines. The Pens say it's a neck injury, not a concussion, and he returns March 15, 2012.
March 30, 2013: Crosby suffers a broken jaw and several broken teeth when hit in the face by a shot against the Islanders. He is out indefinitely, once again potentially costing him the scoring title.