Crosby cleared for noncontact practices
Penguins center Sidney Crosby has been cleared by team doctors to resume practicing with teammates, but general manager Ray Shero ruled out the possibility of him returning before the playoffs.
Crosby, who has been sidelined with a concussion since early January, will be allowed to participate in noncontact morning sessions on game days. The first comes today at Tampa Bay. Barring a setback, the next will occur Saturday before a game at Florida.
Doctors have not cleared Crosby to play in games. Shero stressed that Crosby might not play again until next season, but he refused to rule him out for the playoffs.
"To return to game action in the Stanley Cup playoffs takes a certain amount of fitness," Shero said Wednesday after practice at Consol Energy Center. "He certainly is not close to that right now."
Still, a positive vibe remains within the organization about Crosby, who hasn't played since Jan. 5.
His resumption of on-ice workouts March 14 was met with guarded optimism inside his camp. As the workouts increased in intensity last week, Crosby's teammates spoke publicly for the first time about his possible return for games.
Crosby first must gain permission to resume full practices, which would include contact drills.
Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, warned against "jumping too quick to conclusions," but described his client's return to noncontact practices as "real good news."
Crosby was not available for comment, but Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek said hearing of Crosby's impending return for noncontact practices proved to be inspirational after a disappointing 5-2 home loss Tuesday to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguins failed to pull into a tie for first place in the Atlantic Division with the defeat.
"He's the best player in the world," Michalek said, "and if he can come back this year, that can only be a good thing for us."
Crosby hasn't played since he was hit from the blindside twice in four days, starting Jan. 1 at the Winter Classic by then-Washington forward David Steckel. Crosby also was hit from behind into the boards by Tampa Bay defenseman Victory Hedman on Jan. 5. He was diagnosed with a concussion the next day.
Crosby was the NHL's leader in goals (32) and points (66) at the time. The Penguins (45-24-8, 98 points) are 19-12-5 in his absence, having also played without center Evgeni Malkin since Feb. 4.
Malkin, like Crosby a former NHL scoring champion, is out for the season because of surgery to repair torn right knee ligaments.
The Penguins have scored two or fewer goals in 20 of the 36 games Crosby has missed.
"Having him back would make us a different team," winger Pascal Dupuis said.
The Penguins grew hopeful last week that doctors would clear Crosby to resume practicing. There is less confidence of his return for games this season because of the unknown nature of concussions.
Coach Dan Bylsma's full practices are generally fast paced and involve contact drills. He prefers the term "morning practice" as opposed to "morning skate" for game-day sessions because of their high-tempo nature and game-plan implementation.
Injured Penguins routinely are worked into game-day morning practices before returning to full practice sessions on off days.
There is no way to predict how Crosby will respond to increased activities, and it is not uncommon for players recovering from concussions to experience setbacks after an increase in activity.
"This is a symptom-based injury," Shero said. "He knows his symptoms. He'll know when to pull back."
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