Penguins' Crosby still not cleared for contact
For Sidney Crosby, it was another encouraging day without any setbacks.
It was also a day with no change to his status.
Crosby went through another Pittsburgh Penguins morning skate without contact Tuesday as he continues to recover from a concussion. It's exactly the same status the superstar has had since the start of training camp more than three weeks ago.
And if the Penguins were hoping the day of their home opener might bring news they have waited months to hear — that Crosby has been cleared for contact, at least during practice — they were left disappointed.
While general manager Ray Shero said Monday he anticipated that Crosby would visit his concussion specialist Tuesday — perhaps to get clearance to undergo full contact in practice — Crosby said no such visit was scheduled.
Crosby generally meets with specialist Michael (Micky) Collins at least once a week to review his status and to undergo a series of short tests. Crosby said they will get together again later this week and there was some anticipation that the meeting might be Tuesday, since Crosby and the Penguins returned Monday from a five-day road trip to Western Canada.
"I don't know who said I had an appointment today but I don't," Crosby said. "It's the same as usual — I feel good. It went good today and I'm excited to be home."
The Penguins might have been even more excited about playing at home for the first time in nearly six months had Crosby been cleared for contact when they practice again Wednesday.
"He's looking great on the ice and he's making great strides to get back," said forward James Neal, who was acquired from Dallas seven months ago to play alongside Crosby but has yet to do so.
Not that all this waiting is discouraging Crosby or the Penguins, who were set to meet the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
Both the player and team knew this would be an extended process as Crosby healed from a concussion that affected his vestibular system, the part of the body that controls movement and balance. Even the simple act of skating briskly required some relearning on Crosby's part, and he has spent much of this year unable to do such routine tasks as watching TV or reading a newspaper without experiencing discomfort.
But after having some concussion-related symptoms all the way up until a couple of weeks before training camp began Sept. 17, Crosby has been symptom-free since then — as encouraging a sign as he's received since he was injured during the first week of January.
Even an accidental collision with assistant coach Tony Granato during Tuesday's morning skate occurred without incident.
"It's never fun watching, but it's nice to be getting closer and it's nice being out there and going hard and I haven't had anything that's really worried me," Crosby said. "It's been nice to have had that the last couple of weeks."
During his summer workouts, Crosby was forced to dial down some of his workouts when concussion-related problems such as headaches and dizziness persisted.
But even after Crosby is cleared to throw and absorb hits in practice, it won't necessarily mean he is within days of returning to game action. According to his doctors, there will be various levels he must go through even during that process.
Among them will be making sure there is no reluctance, even subconsciously, on Crosby's part to fully engage in every phase of the game.
"When I come back, I've got to make sure I'm confident — if I'm thinking about that, the chances of me getting hit are probably better," he said. "The more you hesitate, the more chance of that happening. I'll do everything I can to make sure I'm ready but, at the same time you can't simulate a guy crushing you on the open ice."
In the meantime, the Penguins will attempt to remain competitive even without the face of the NHL. Since Crosby last played on Jan. 5, the Penguins are 25-13-6 during the regular season, including their 2-0-1 swing to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton that began the 2011-12 season.
"I think we looked pretty sharp in the way we played and that's something that usually takes a little time," Crosby said. "I thought for the most part we were in sync. There's always things at the start of the year you have to improve on, but I think as a group we were really sharp."
Pittsburgh was also without former Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin for its home opener against Florida, which lost all four games to the Penguins last season.
Malkin has lower body soreness that caused him to sit out the 2-1 shootout loss in Edmonton on Sunday, but coach Dan Bylsma said it is not related to his right knee injury of last season. Malkin's 2010-11 campaign ended when he tore two ligaments in his right knee during a collision with the Sabres' Tyler Myers on Feb. 4.
Malkin first experienced the latest discomfort during Pittsburgh's 5-3 victory in Calgary on Saturday night. He appeared to experience pain during the pre-game skate Sunday and was held out.
"We don't think it's long term or anything other than [him] just being sore at this point," Bylsma said.