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Lack of contact in practice delaying Crosby’s return

Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 2:06 PM / NHL Insider

By Alan Robinson - NHL.com Correspondent

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Lack of contact in practice delaying Crosby’s return
With the Penguins' hectic schedule, Sidney Crosby hasn't been able to get the contact he needs in practice before taking the ice for a game.
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby will know when it's time to start playing again -- and the time isn't now.

The star center participated in the Pittsburgh Penguins' morning skate before their game Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils, 10 days after being cleared for full contact in practice. But with the Penguins playing at a more than every-other-day pace -- the game against the Devils was their 10th in 17 days -- there hasn't been much contact for anyone during their few practices. Not even for the player who needs it the most.

"I think I need to get in some contact, more than just one bump in a morning skate," said Crosby, who hasn't played since Jan. 5 because of a concussion. "I think it's got to be a few days of that. So whenever we can get some of those days together, and hopefully I respond well to that, then I'll be much closer than I am right now."

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For the first time since starting their season on Oct. 6, the Penguins will enjoy consecutive days off Sunday and Monday, but they aren't scheduled to practice Sunday. After that, it's three games in five days starting Tuesday, including a home-and-home affair with the New York Islanders.

But they do have a four-day break Oct. 30-Nov. 2 and a five-day break Nov. 6-10, when it's possible the Penguins could ramp up Crosby's hitting.

After he shows he can handle the contact, Crosby said the opponent won't matter. When it's time, it will be time.

"It's been a long time, so I'm just looking forward to whenever that is," he said.

The Penguins pretty much knew when training camp opened last month that Crosby wouldn't be ready to start the season, but they were counting on a seemingly healthy Evgeni Malkin to carry them offensively until Crosby returned. However, Malkin is out for the seventh time in 10 games and the fifth consecutive game due to right knee soreness. He had a goal and three assists in the three games he's played.

Pittsburgh also was without defenseman Brooks Orpik (sports hernia) and forward Dustin Jeffrey (knee) for its first eight games before they returned Thursday. Defenseman Kris Letang, who had a goal and six assists in seven games, also was suspended for two games. He'll be back to face the Devils.

Regardless, the Penguins picked up at least a point in all but two of their first nine games, relying on a balanced offense and the NHL's best penalty-killing unit to go 5-2-2. Going into the Devils' game, they had allowed their opponents only one power play goal in 31 attempts.

"We've kind of dealt with this (injury situation) a little bit to start the year. I think we've handled it really well," Crosby said. "Obviously the more guys we get healthy, the better. But I think whatever's happened, we seem to respond really well. So I think we just want to keep playing the same way." 

Especially forward James Neal, who has six goals in his last six games and seven overall in nine games. By contrast, he had a lone goal in 20 games with Pittsburgh following a February trade with Dallas last season.

No doubt Crosby is anticipating playing on a line with Neal -- which was the Penguins' plan eight months ago when they dealt for the 24-year forward.

"He's got a great shot and he's been using it," Crosby said of Neal. "He's been making every one count. When guys are out, other guys need to step up and he's done a great job of that."

This is the longest Crosby has been out with an injury since he broke into the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2005. His longest previous layoff was approximately seven weeks with a high ankle sprain in 2008.

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