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Fitting Crosby in for surging Penguins not a problem

Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 2:23 PM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Fitting Crosby in for surging Penguins not a problem
Teams don't often like to mess with a winning lineup, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are quite happy to with the return of Sidney Crosby to play the East-leading N.Y. Rangers.

NEW YORK -- The question seems so ludicrous, even borderline insane to ask.

How difficult will it be for Penguins coach Dan Bylsma to work Sidney Crosby back into the lineup of a team that has won nine in a row?

"I've laughed pretty hard over some of the speculation and asking that question, how do you fit him in?" Bylsma said Thursday morning from Madison Square Garden, hours before Crosby was set to make his second celebrated return to the Penguins lineup this season. "Everyone wants to get Sidney Crosby back in our lineup. Everyone wants to get Sidney Crosby back on our power play. There is going to be some adjustment in lines and playing time and the power play will look different, but there is a significant amount of time to (make) some of those adjustments.

"If it's a problem, it's a good problem to have."

It's not a problem. It's a solution.

Remember, this is Sidney Crosby, a 24-year-old who happens to be considered the best hockey player on the planet. He hasn't played since Dec. 5 and has played only eight games in the past 14 1/2 months, but he's back and nobody, least of all No. 87, is concerned about how he'll be able to work himself back in.

"Everyone wants to get Sidney Crosby back in our lineup. Everyone wants to get Sidney Crosby back on our power play. There is going to be some adjustment in lines and playing time and the power play will look different, but there is a significant amount of time to (make) some of those adjustments."
-- Dan Bylsma

"You just have to go out there and play the same way," Crosby said. "Any player will tell you that you've got to play within your role and I know what that is for me. I don't think it changes anything. There is going to be an adjustment period, but I still feel I can do that.

Pittsburgh has motored on without Crosby. The Penguins are 26-13-1 since he was last seen in a game Dec. 5, and the nine-game winning streak they bring into New York has put a dent into the Rangers lead in the Eastern Conference. It's down to six points, with the potential of slimming down to four if Pittsburgh wins in regulation Thursday.

"This game is a lot more than a comeback game for Sid," Bylsma said. "We know if we want to catch the Rangers, catch first in our division and hopefully first in our conference that we have to beat them. I don't think we can give them one point and realistically have a chance to get them. That's what this game is about for us."

Clearly the Penguins have a better chance of catching the Rangers with Crosby in the lineup, but Bylsma's plan is to work No. 87 in slowly. It starts with Crosby being the center on the third line between Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy.

Yes, Crosby on the third line seems as ludicrous as the question about how difficult it will be for Bylsma to bring him back into a winning lineup, but this way it keeps the Penguins top-two lines together and enables Bylsma to have better control of Crosby's minutes early in his comeback.

Hart Trophy candidate Evgeni Malkin will remain with James Neal and Chris Kunitz while Jordan Staal will stay between Steve Sullivan and Pascal Dupuis. Malkin has 13 points during the Penguins winning streak while Staal has points in eight straight games (three goals, eight assists).

Crosby, though, is expected to play on the point of the first power-play unit with Malkin, Kunitz, Neal and Kris Letang, who is also coming back for the first time since Feb. 29.

MORE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS COVERAGE

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By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor
While Sidney Crosby was delivering his long-awaited news to the media in Pittsburgh, Pens General Manager Ray Shero was ensconced in a board room at the Boca Raton Beach Club, discussing the minutiae of potential rule changes during Day 2 of the NHL's GM meetings. READ MORE ›
"We all understand it's going to be a work in progress when it comes to his minutes and getting it back up to where he is going to want to be on the ice for that 20 or 21 minutes," Bylsma said.

Crosby played just less than 16 minutes on Nov. 21, when he made his first celebrated return of the season with four points in a 5-0 home win against the Islanders. Odds are Bylsma will try to keep Crosby to 15 minutes or less in what is expected to be a physical, tight-checking rivalry game against the Rangers.

"I'm not going to campaign for it (more ice time), but hopefully I'm playing well and feeling good," Crosby said. "If that's the case, I'm sure he'll give me that opportunity. That's something you feel out and see how it goes. But if I end up playing more than that, that's probably a good sign. I'll be happy if that happens."

Crosby re-iterated multiple times that he's confident in how he's prepared for his second comeback. He admitted there are nerves, but added that's normal for anybody who is returning to play after missing an extended period of time.

"I don't expect to be where I was 14 months ago, but I expect to be at a pretty good level to create things and contribute," he said. "I'm not going out there just to kill time."

Crosby felt the same way when he returned the last time, but he lasted only eight games.

He is not worried about the same thing happening twice.

"You can't, to be honest with you. You've got to play the same way," Crosby said. "Whether you've gone through this before or you didn't, the more you hesitate in a game the more of a chance you have of getting hit. When you hesitate usually you're in trouble. That's why you practice hard and you test yourself and you make sure you're ready. I'm more than confident in that."

Crosby recalled looking for signs that he was OK after making his first return.

"I don't think there is a need to do that with what I have done in practice," he said. "You just play the game you need to play and go with it."

That's exactly what Bylsma expects from Crosby, starting with his first shift Thursday night.

"I have never seen him not go right into the hard area, the traffic area. I've never seen him not go into the corner with a shoulder and a bump and a spin trying to win the puck," Bylsma said. "He's been doing that in practice. I expect him to go out there first shift and go right after the puck."

If he does, working him back into the lineup will become an afterthought.

"If anything you're excited to get back out there and try to use that adrenaline to play well," Crosby said. "You make it as normal as possible, if that is possible."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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