PITTSBURGH -- Finally, the Pittsburgh Penguins will catch a break next week.
A schedule break, and a long-awaited one at that. One that might accelerate star Sidney Crosby's return to the lineup.
The Penguins are beginning their season by playing 13 games in 24 days, a hectic pace that concludes with games Thursday against the Islanders and Saturday at Toronto. By contrast, they play only 12 games in 31 days in January, partly because of the All-Star break.
So many games in so few days this month -- only once have the Penguins had even a two-day break between games -- hasn't allowed for much practice time. Or time that is needed for Crosby to be introduced to more contact, which he needs before he can be cleared for game action.
Crosby, who is healing from a concussion, has taken part mostly in game-day skates, during which contact is minimal at best.
Next week, though, the Penguins will enjoy a four-day break before they play at San Jose next Thursday and Los Angeles on Nov. 5. After that, they have five days off before a Nov. 11 home game against Dallas.
Those days, coach Dan Bylsma said, will permit more detail work during practices than the Penguins can experience while playing so often.
"I think you'll see some days for the whole team to rest, but that time will also allow us to have some type of practices that are different than even what we go through (on a normal practice day)," Bylsma said. "That'll be balanced with some rest days as well. But I think our team -- not just Sidney -- knows we need some work and some work days."
Bylsma said the Penguins, despite their strong start, need some "work-day practices where we're getting pace and tempo and some battle into our game in different areas. Those are areas that we all know we need. Not just guys who are returning from injuries, or Sidney."
Crosby was cleared Oct. 13 for contact during practice, but has yet to experience anything other than bumping or shoving -- and nothing approximating what occurs during a game.
Crosby didn't get much time on the ice during Thursday but took full advantage of it, flying down the ice with excellent acceleration while shooting with precision and authority. At times he was a white-and-purple blur, reflecting the specially-designed jerseys the Penguins wore during the morning skate and will don again for the pre-game warm-ups. The jerseys will be auctioned on NHL.com starting Nov. 1 as part of the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer initiative.