Penguins star Sidney Crosby's return remains uncertain, appears close

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ second power-play unit looked a little different during practice Friday in Cranberry.

Sidney Crosby was on it.

The franchise icon participated in the practice session, albeit in a reserve role during five-on-five rushes for the lines and defensive pairings.

So to get Crosby a bit more involved, the coaches stuck him on the northeast end of the rink with the likes of forwards such as journeyman Danton Heinen and rookie Drew O’Connor.

Crosby appeared to enjoy being involved in the mix — at least that’s what his smile conveyed — as he “won” faceoffs that weren’t competed for and worked the puck around the offensive zone trying to generate goals against a somewhat passive penalty-killing unit.

It offered a semblance of normalcy for the Penguins’ captain that he hasn’t fully enjoyed for several months. And it represented him being one day closer to returning to the ice for real.

Sidelined since undergoing surgery for a chronically injured left wrist Sept. 8, Crosby has missed the team’s first four games of the season and has been ruled out for their fifth, a home contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

No specific target date for a return exists, but the team initially indicated his recovery would require a minimum of six weeks.

Such a time frame has passed, and Crosby appears to be on the verge of rejoining his teammates in a game of consequence soon. But a few more vital steps remain in his recovery.

“I haven’t really had any force, whether it be through faceoffs or lifting sticks and going against guys, that sort of thing,” said Crosby, who spoke with local reporters in a group setting for the first time since training camp opened Sept. 23. “Battling, pushing around, shoving. Those are things that I haven’t been able to do. When I can do that comfortably and be able to do it without pain and just be able to manage those things, I think that will be a big step. Faceoffs are something — I do 20 to 25 faceoffs a game — so that’s something that’s definitely got to be there.”

As for his wrist, some level of damage has been there for more than seven years. During a home game against the St. Louis Blues on March 23, 2014, Crosby initially was injured when he was checked to the ice by future teammate Ryan Reaves. In the years since, Crosby has calcified his legacy as one of the sport’s greatest players ever by winning Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017, the Conn Smythe Award as postseason MVP (twice) and the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal-scorer in 2016-17 despite discomfort or even pain in the appendage.

Arthroscopic surgery in August of 2020 alleviated the issue but only temporarily. Crosby indicated the more elaborate procedure last month, which he declined to specify the nature of, hopefully will put the issues to rest.

“It was something that I kind of had to manage since (March of 2014),” Crosby said. “I was able to avoid having to really do any of surgeries or anything until last year, (when) I got (arthroscopic surgery). It was just something that I was always able to manage somehow in the summer, just being able to get rest. During the (season), it was something that would kind of come back and I’d get through it.”

Crosby noted the procedure he had in September is “something I can’t have done again.” The timing of the operation was curious when it was announced. Why didn’t Crosby undergo surgery earlier in the offseason in order to avoid missing games?

“This year, it just wouldn’t come back over the summer,” Crosby said. “You try to rehab it, you try to avoid surgery. That’s a last resort. Sometimes, eventually, it would come later on during the summer and this year, it didn’t. We all felt it was something that I wouldn’t get through the season if I didn’t take care of it. Unfortunately, I’m missing some time here early. But I guess the other side of that was (potentially) missing a lot more games, probably, in the middle of the year. I’m glad that we took care of it and hopefully, I can get back in the lineup here shortly.”

Given the other absences of forwards Evgeni Malkin (right knee), Bryan Rust (undisclosed injury) and Jeff Carter (covid-19), the Penguins would like to see Crosby make a swift return, as well.

In the meantime, they’ve performed well in his absence, going 2-0-2 to open the campaign.

“Everyone is playing the same way,” Crosby said. “Every line that goes out there over the boards is playing hard. We’re playing fast, and we’re not giving teams a lot of time and space. Our work ethic is kind of setting the tone for everything else. We made some nice plays, we made some big plays. Early on, preparation is really big. Everyone is trying to adjust and kind of find their game. I felt like right from Game 1, we got to our game pretty quickly. It’s good to kind of get to that identity early and really get to know that.”

The Penguins and Crosby don’t seem to know precisely when he’ll be back in the lineup. But he appeared to take a another step toward that indeterminate terminus Friday.

“I’m hoping (September’s surgery) improves it a lot,” Crosby said. “This last year with the (arthroscopic surgery) and just dealing with it, it became more of an issue. Hopefully, it can feel a lot better here and I can put it behind me.”

Follow the Penguins all season long.

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Penguins/NHL | Sports