PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins were more than cautious about not rushing Sidney Crosby during his 10-month concussion layoff. That same caution apparently applies now as well.
Crosby will sit out road games Thursday at Philadelphia and Saturday at the New York Islanders.
Crosby was held out of practice Tuesday for what the team said was a routine day off, then went through a full practice Wednesday before the Penguins' flight departed for Philadelphia. Crosby gave no sign during or after Wednesday's practice that there was a problem, and he talked to reporters for several minutes about the Penguins' first matchup with the rival Flyers this season.
Asked about his health, Crosby said, "I feel good."
However, about four hours later, the Penguins issued a statement saying that their team captain "wasn't feeling 100 percent" and would skip the upcoming games for precautionary reasons. He did not accompany the team on the flight to Philadelphia.
"Sidney took a hard hit during our game against Boston Monday night and wasn't feeling 100 percent," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said in the statement. "He saw Dr. Mickey Collins of UPMC today and took an ImPACT (neurocognitive) test, which showed no problems. However, we all think it's best that he sits out the next two games as a precaution."
Coach Dan Bylsma commented on Crosby's condition at the team's morning skate Thursday when he was asked when, exactly, Crosby suffered the injury that warranted his sitting the next two games.
"It was not a one-time incident in the game," Bylsma said. "He took a couple hits in the game and didn’t feel 100 percent after the game, so that was an indication. He went and saw Dr. (Michael) Collins the next day. His imPACT test was exactly what it was when he returned to play. Dr. Collins said there is no indication of a concussion at this point in time. After practice (Wednesday), he had a slight headache. He knows his body well. It’s been a long 10 months. And as a precautionary (move), he is just kind of taking tonight’s game off and through the weekend."
The ImPACT test, designed by Pittsburgh-based researchers and doctors, measures an athlete's cognitive skills, memory and brain function before and after a concussion. The test allows doctors and trainers to determine when an athlete who has had a concussion is ready to return to competition.
Collins, a nationally known concussion specialist who helped develop the test, oversaw Crosby's recovery in conjunction with Penguins team doctor Charles "Chip" Burke.
Crosby took the ImPACT test periodically while sitting out from Jan. 6 until Nov. 20, missing 61 games -- 41 last season, plus a playoff round, and 20 games this season. He was not permitted to return until his test scores matched those before hard hits in successive games Jan. 1 and Jan. 5 led to the concussion.
The Letang incident may be one reason why the Penguins are being especially cautious with Crosby. Letang broke his nose and suffered a concussion while absorbing a hard hit from the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty as Letang launched a shot during the Penguins' Nov. 26 game in Montreal. Pacioretty was later suspended for three games.
As Letang was being treated for the broken nose, he underwent the required in-game testing that doctors must administer while determining whether a player can return to a game. Letang initially showed no signs of a concussion -- he returned to score the game-winning goal in overtime -- but he has not played since. The Penguins acknowledged this week that Letang had a concussion and placed him on the injured reserve list retroactive to that game.
Bylsma has defended the decision to allow Letang to return, saying all NHL-mandated guidelines were followed before he went back into the game.
This is the first setback for Crosby since he made his long-awaited comeback against the Islanders on Nov. 21, scoring two goals and getting two assists in a 5-0 victory.
While Crosby has played well since returning, helping the Penguins to a 5-2-1 record by accumulating 12 points, he does not have a goal since the Islanders game.
Crosby clearly was looking forward to opposing the Flyers, who added Crosby's former teammate, forward Max Talbot, and one-time Penguins star Jaromir Jagr during the offseason.
"It's always weird when you play against former teammates," Crosby said. "But the rivalry with that team, I'm sure, will be kind of more of the focus than playing a former teammate. I'm sure Max has gotten past that. He's on the Flyers now and he's an opponent, so that's the way things are. We'll compete hard against each other."
But not on this trip -- the teams don't play again until Dec. 29 in Pittsburgh. After this weekend, the Penguins don't play again until Tuesday at home against Detroit. They also play next week at Ottawa, on Friday and at home against Buffalo on Saturday.
No doubt Crosby is disappointed at missing a game against the Flyers, the opponent he torments like no other. His 26 goals and 36 assists for 62 points in 36 career games against Philadelphia are his most against any opponent.
We want to make sure that whoever makes our team really makes our team by earning it and not putting them in situations where they get preference because of their status as a first-round pick or whatever it might be. That's not going to happen. Everybody has to earn their way on our team.
— Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen on the team's prospects at development camp