Crosby cleared for contact, a big step in recovery
The light at the end of a long tunnel was a black helmet.
The helmet signaled that center Sidney Crosby finally could be treated like the rest of his Penguins teammates, at least during practices, and marked the end of his wearing different colored head gear to designate "noncontact" status.
Crosby, the face of the Penguins and the NHL, announced Thursday that team physician Dr. Charles Burke cleared him for contact -- arguably the biggest news this sport has generated since Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion Jan. 6.
"Doing light stuff and feeling pretty good and the way I responded to everything the last few weeks, it was a good sign," Crosby said.
The news overshadowed another black helmet, this one worn by teammate and fellow center Evgeni Malkin, who returned from a two-game absence last night to face the Washington Capitals at Consol Energy Center.
Even Crosby's archrival, Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, welcomed word that Crosby, currently symptom-free, is closer to playing games.
"Of course I'm excited," Ovechkin said before last night's game. "He's a great player. I love playing against him. It's good for fans to see the top players on the ice. Of course everybody wishes him the best.
"He's going to be back, and it's going to be more exciting than ever."
There is no timetable for Crosby's return to games, but he left no doubt about what he can handle during practices.
"Full contact," Crosby said, later joking he "might have to do something to get (Penguins teammates) to hit (him)."
Finding time for Crosby to experience "some jostling and hitting" will prove challenging, coach Dan Bylsma said.
The Penguins' game against Washington was their fifth in eight nights. They play Buffalo at home Saturday night, begin next week with back-to-back games at Winnipeg and Minnesota, and finish the month with five games from Oct. 20-29.
The NHL season is young, but Wednesday already marked the Penguins' first optional practice, and only 12 skaters opted to dress. A heavy first-month schedule will limit the practices in which Crosby can fully participate, making it harder to assess what he can handle.
"It makes it difficult," Bylsma said. "That's why (yesterday) he participated on a line because he hasn't been on one for a lot of the practices. Trying to give him those situations a little more often is something we're going to do every chance we get."
Crosby's line included left winger Matt Cooke and right winger Pascal Dupuis. He also worked as part of the first-team power play.
Malkin had not dressed since Saturday in Calgary. He said yesterday the scar on his surgically repaired right knee began bothering him during that game.
Bylsma said that soreness was not unexpected based on the conversations he had with the team's medical staff regarding Malkin's recovery from surgery in February to repair torn right knee ligaments.
Including last postseason, the Penguins had been without Crosby and Malkin for 46 of their past 53 games. Prior to last season, Crosby and Malkin had rated as the club's two top scorers in their first four years as teammates.
Entering last night's game, the Penguins were 23-10-6 in regular-season games without Crosby and Malkin dating to Crosby's concussion diagnosis.
"The system's the same whether they play or not, but they take it to a whole new level," Cooke said. "We play in a structured system, but there is some freedom there. When we have the puck, we want to go in a certain direction, but when they're out there ... they can beat two guys by themselves. They can create unique opportunities.
"We as a group aren't trying to hinder that by being so systematic that they can't bring that element to the game."
Crosby concussion timeline
Penguins center Sidney Crosby said Thursday he has been cleared by team physician Dr. Charles Burke for "full contact" practices, marking the next step in his recovery from a concussion and concussion symptoms. There still is no timetable for his return to game action.
> > Jan. 1: A blindside hit by Washington's David Steckel leaves Crosby dazed, but Crosby finishes the Winter Classic game at Heinz Field.
> > Jan. 5: In the Penguins' next game, he is driven from behind into the boards at Consol Energy Center by Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman. Crosby returns to play and accompanies the team on a post-game flight to Montreal.
> > Jan. 6: After waking up in Montreal with symptoms such as headache, nausea, disorientation and neck soreness, Crosby returns to Pittsburgh and is diagnosed with a concussion.
> > March 31: He resumes on-ice practices with Penguins at Tampa Bay but is not cleared for contact participation.
> > April 20: He participates in a final noncontact practice before he is shut down by the Penguins midway through Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs because of headaches.
> > June 2: He is cleared by Michael Collins, a clinical neuropsychologist with UPMC who heads his concussion team, for regular offseason workouts, but not contract.
> > July 15: Penguins general manager Ray Shero says Crosby had resumed regular offseason workouts but that Crosby was not cleared for contact. Shero called Crosby's playoff shutdown a "step back, not a setback."
> > Aug. 14: Amid Internet buzz that Crosby had experienced a setback, Shero says Crosby had experienced a reoccurrence of concussion symptoms but that he has not been shut down from offseason training.
> > Aug. 24: The Penguins release a statement saying Crosby, with team approval, had sought alternate opinions from concussion experts in Michigan and Georgia because he had experienced headaches after conducting on-ice workouts at "90 percent exertion."
> > Sept. 7: Crosby updates his status at a news conference that includes Shero, Collins and Ted Carrick, a Florida-based chiropractor who specializes in neurological treatment. Crosby says he "likely" would play this season.
> > Sept. 16: Crosby says he is cleared for noncontact participation in training-camp practices. Carrick tells WDVE-FM that Crosby is "as ready (for physical contact) as just about any player in the league."
Source: Tribune-Review records
Sidney Crosby Cleared For Contact
Penguins captian Sidney Crosby skates with the black helmet and has had full contact for almost two weeks at Consol Energy Center, Tuesday, November 1, 2011.