Crosby sharp during practice
TAMPA, Fla. — Sidney Crosby never felt so good about doing something once so routine.
A day after doctors cleared him for noncontact practices on game days, Crosby on Thursday exuded a sense of being in his element during a "morning skate" session Thursday at St. Pete Times Forum.
"Just the motion, all the guys out there — it's something you take for granted a lot, but it's something you have to get readjusted to," he said. "It puts a little added pressure on your brain a bit when everyone is moving out there, and you have to react to all that. So it's just trying to see how that goes."
Crosby stressed that he won't know for perhaps days how this next step impacts his recovery from a concussion. He is scheduled for another noncontact practice Saturday morning before a game at the Florida Panthers, but a reappearance of headaches before that would alter the plan.
There were positive signs from this session:
• He did not appear gassed after puck-movement drills.
• He looked confident retrieving, passing and shooting the puck on power-play exercises.
• He smiled often, even while standing near the boards as coach Dan Bylsma blew his whistle to call for line rushes.
That smile disappeared after the Penguins' practice, as Crosby addressed the blindside hit he absorbed from Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman — a hit that knocked Crosby's head into the glass boards at Consol Energy Center Jan. 5.
That was the last time he played, and the hit remains a sore point considering he has missed 37 straight games, including last night's against the Lightning.
A previous blindside headshot from then-Washington forward David Steckel at the New Year's Day Winter Classic is suspected to having contributed to Crosby's concussed state.
Crosby said he remains unsure if Hedman's hit alone caused the concussion.
"It probably didn't help," he said. "I would say it didn't help."
Hedman, who was penalized but like Steckel did not receive supplemental discipline from the NHL, has maintained he did not attempt to injure Crosby.
"It's obviously not fun to hurt people," he said yesterday before Crosby practiced, "but I still think it wasn't my hit that created problems for him."
One of Crosby's best friends in the sport, Upper St. Clair native and former Penguins winger Ryan Malone, is one of many members of the Lightning organization to back Hedman's stance.
"He bumped him," Malone said, citing Hedman's 6-foot-6, 229-pound frame compared to Crosby's 5-foot-11, 200-pound body. "I think (Crosby's) problem was before that. I don't think it was a malicious hit or a hit to give him a concussion.
"I don't think that's a concern for anybody."
The aftermath of Hedman's hit did concern Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher, who was an assistant coach during Crosby's second junior hockey season with Rimouski.
Boucher said Steckel's hit was "a lot worse" than the one from Hedman but stressed that seeing Crosby hurt was "the last thing (he wanted)."
"What's sad is that it happens to a guy who needs to be playing games," Boucher said. "The game is worse off when he's not there."
Having Crosby on the ice was good for the Penguins' psyche, who are trying to hold off the Lightning for home-ice advantage in a likely Round 1 series of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"He's our leader, a guy who just by being around (lifts) guys' spirits," Penguins winger Chris Kunitz said, acknowledging that there's no guarantee Crosby will play again before next season. "We still have to have a good couple of games here to make sure it's possible for him to come back in a good situation."
How to win without Crosby
Penguins center Sidney Crosby led the NHL in goals (32) and points (66) when he was diagnosed with a concussion Jan. 6. In 36 games without him prior to Thursday, they averaged 2.33 goals per game but amassed a 19-12-5 mark. Here's a look at how the Penguins have stayed near the top of the Eastern Conference during that span despite struggling offensively:
• They amassed 15 points (5-10-5) from games in which they had scored two or fewer goals.
• They were 13-4-2 in games with goals from Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Staal and Chris Kunitz, forwards who had combined for 32 goals since Crosby last played.
• They were 11-7-4 in games with three or fewer power-play chances, scoring four of their 17 power-play goals without Crosby in those contests.
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