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Crosby practices again, but 'nothing's changed'

| Saturday, April 2, 2011

SUNRISE, Fla. — A familiar face was the Penguins' first-line center Friday at BankAtlantic Center.

However, Sidney Crosby's surprise second consecutive day of practice with teammates was not an indication he is close to being cleared by team doctors for full-practice participation.

Not even close.

"Nothing's changed," he said after a session that lasted about an hour and did not include contact drills.

Crosby, out since Jan. 5 while recovering from a concussion, was cleared by doctors Wednesday for noncontact practices. The Penguins planned for him to participate in game-day sessions commonly referred to as "morning skates," as he did Thursday in Tampa, Fla. He is scheduled to participate in one of those practices this morning before tonight's game at Florida.

However, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma designed a practice yesterday that focused primarily on skating and skill work. Without the potential for contact, Crosby scrapped his plan to skate at the arena in the afternoon and instead joined the team workout.

"It was nice that was the kind of practice it was," he said, downplaying the significance of his appearance.

Crosby engaged in flow drills, for which he was flanked by wingers James Neal and Alex Kovalev. Crosby also was inserted into power-play drills, as he was Thursday.

Again, he appeared comfortable in his surroundings — joking with teammates during breaks and patiently observing from the bench during drills that required light contact. His skating stride was purposeful, his glide smooth, his movements sharp.

"It's a challenge to keep up at his pace," Bylsma said.

Crosby stayed on the ice for approximately 15 extra minutes to take part in individual work aimed at building stamina. His teammates were bemused by the fuss his appearance caused.

"He's a hockey player," Kovalev said with a deadpan delivery. "This is what he does."

There is no timetable for Crosby's return, though general manager Ray Shero said Wednesday that Crosby would not play during the regular season. The Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 13, and the Penguins have not ruled out Crosby returning for the postseason — though, privately, team officials are not optimistic he will be ready for Game 1 of the likely first-round series against Tampa Bay.

The Penguins (45-25-8, 98 points) have lost two straight games in regulation. They have scored only six goals in their past five games and have posted two or fewer goals in 21 of the 37 consecutive games Crosby has missed.

They were third in the NHL at 3.24 goals per game with Crosby in the lineup. They have averaged 2.30 in his absence — although center Evgeni Malkin was available for just seven games Crosby missed. Malkin, like Crosby a former NHL scoring champion, is out for the season while recovering from right-knee surgery.

Crosby, the NHL leader in goals (32) and points (66) at the time of his last game, must remain symptom-free after each of his future noncontact workouts. Only with doctors' approval can he return to contact practices, and then he would need additional clearance to play in games.

"The only time I think about (Crosby's impact upon a potential return) is when broadcasts flash goal-differential (statistics) on the screen," Bylsma said.

"It's great to see him out with his teammates, good to see him in the drills flying around ... but the progression he's had still leaves him a long ways away (from playing)."

Note: All Penguins players except wings Arron Asham and Pascal Dupuis practiced yesterday. Asham is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, and Dupuis was given a day off to rest. Bylsma did not rule out either for tonight's game.

Additional Information:

Scouting report

Penguins at Panthers

7 p.m. today, BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, Fla.

TV/radio: Root Sports/WXDX-FM 105.9, Penguins Radio Network

Season series: Penguins lead, 3-0-0. They are trying for their first regular-season sweep of the Panthers. Their best mark was 3-0-1 in 1993-94, the Panthers' first season. The Penguins have won at least three games against Florida in three of the past four seasons.

Who to watch: Wing David Booth, twice concussed last season, leads the Panthers with 22 goals.

Trends: The Panthers have played 48 games decided by one goal, third-most in franchise history. ... Goalie Scott Clemmensen has lost four straight starts but only one in regulation. ... Florida will miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for an NHL-record 10th consecutive season.

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