PITTSBURGH— Sidney Crosby skated fast enough, shot the puck well enough and executed more than a few routine drills extraordinarily well enough during a demanding 45 minutes on the ice Monday to remind the Pittsburgh Penguins that, well, he's still Sidney Crosby.
Crosby stickhandled the puck like the multiple-time All-Star he is and powered shots from odd angles past a make-shift goaltender. He visibly exerted himself while skating with injured teammates Jordan Staal and Simon Despres and didn't look much at all like a player whose return to the lineup remains indefinite.
"I don't think Sidney Crosby does anything too light," Pens coach Dan Bylsma said when asked if Crosby, who is recovering from concussion symptoms, is currently restricted to light exercise.
Crosby is not yet close to returning to the lineup – Bylsma acknowledged as much – but he also didn't look like the player whose symptoms are sidelining him for a second extended stretch this season.
As the Penguins await word from an independent physician exactly what is wrong with Crosby – recent tests revealed a neck injury in addition to a concussion – Crosby is healthy enough to remind his teammates what they're missing without him.
"Physically, he's looked a lot better the last couple of weeks," defenseman Brooks Orpik said as the Penguins regrouped following their five-day All-Star break. "He looks a lot more upbeat. And if that's the case, maybe he can put some of this stuff behind him and move forward without any precaution, I guess. Maybe it was the next hurdle, kind of not knowing (exactly what was wrong). It's just good to see him back."
When they'll see him back on the ice during games remains uncertain. The unidentified third-party physician is reviewing Crosby's medical records, including those from a visit last week to, Dr. Robert S. Bray, a California-based neurological spine specialist who Crosby visited last week.
Bray told Crosby that the neck injury has healed, and the Penguins almost certainly would not have allowed him on the ice on Monday, even for routine skating and shooting drills, if there was any chance that it hadn't.
So, for now, Crosby is back to where he was before training camp began; he is cleared to skate but not to practice with the team or to engage in contact drills.
Still, the dynamic flair that Crosby has brought to the ice throughout his six-season NHL career was evident Monday, and his teammates clearly can't wait to see it again. And not just in practice.
"He was pretty excited about being back on the ice and being back with some of his teammates," Bylsma said.
Call it coincidence, but Orpik pointed out the seven-game winning streak the Penguins haul into Tuesday night's game against Toronto at Consol Energy Center began when Crosby joined them during a Florida road trip Jan. 13-15.
Crosby hasn't played since Dec. 5 or participated in a full practice since Dec. 7, when the team revealed a return of the concussion symptoms that sidelined him for the Penguins' final 41 games last season and their first 20 this season. Tuesday's game against Toronto will be the 22nd he has missed during this layoff.
"Everybody in this room loves Sid and he just deserves our support," All-Star defenseman Kris Letang said. "It's great to know when something is wrong what is going on and maybe now he can really focus on getting back and treated (for) whatever is wrong."
Bylsma defended the Penguins' handling of Crosby’s injuries; he was first diagnosed with a concussion after absorbing hard hits in successive games on Jan. 1 and 5, 2011. Crosby has since played only eight games during a span of nearly 13 months.
Bylsma pointed out the Penguins haven't restricted Crosby's care to their own medical staff or his Pittsburgh-based doctors and concussions specialists, and they willingly allowed him to visit outside medical experts in Florida, Utah and California.
"I feel, Sidney feels, he's gotten every possible (avenue of) support from the Penguins and the Penguins' medical staff in the situation he's in, to try to find an answer to where he's at, what his condition is, what is his best road for recovery," Bylsma said. "He's gotten every available (method of) support from both the Penguins and from our medical staff and going other places and getting medical treatment. That's how we feel about it and I know Sidney feels the same way."
During the All-Star break, Penguins general manager Ray Shero said Crosby will consult with his team of concussion specialists this week.
"I think all along you'd like to have a definitive answer what a player has, what Sidney has, so you know the road (to recovery)," Bylsma said. "I think that's the most difficult thing, starting last year with a concussion and going forward, that you don't have a definitive answer. You'd like to do everything you possibly can to help the player to get back to full health and that's the main concern here. If there was some type of exact road you could go down, that would be a positive thing for Sidney and getting him back to full health."
Staal (sprained left medical collateral ligament) worked out with teammates for the first time since he was injured Jan. 6 against the Rangers; he is expected to be out from four to six weeks. Despres also has a sprained knee, but is closer to returning than Staal is, according to Bylsma.
Crosby, Stall and Despres skated before the Penguins practiced and did not talk to reporters.