There were three injured Pittsburgh Penguins
who joined their teammates for practice Monday, but it was the one who is the furthest from returning that drew the most attention.
was on the ice with his teammates for the first time in two months, but said it has little bearing on when he may return to play and was not an indication of an improvement in his recovery from concussion-like symptoms.
The main reason Crosby joined his teammates was that his usual skating partners -- injured teammates Jordan Staal
and Simon Despres
-- have progressed far enough in their recoveries from knee injuries that they could practice with the team.
Basically, Crosby didn't want to feel lonely.
"It's just good to be out there," Crosby said. "I wasn't going to skate by myself if I didn't have to."
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In the case of Staal, however, his presence on Bell Centre ice was a very encouraging sign, one that coach Dan Bylsma
said could lead to a return to the lineup within the next 10 days.
"To get him back on the ice," Bylsma said, "that's a pretty darn good player to be inserting into your lineup."
Staal said his injured knee was feeling good, but he learned quickly just how far he needs to go before he can get back to game speed after missing the past five weeks.
"I'm feeling really good, it's just a matter of time," he said. "It was my first practice back with the team and the guys were skating pretty fast. It makes you want to catch up pretty fast, but it takes a little while to get that under your belt."
Crosby said he has not been cleared for contact nor is he free of symptoms related to a soft-tissue injury in his neck. Last week, the Penguins announced that an independent doctor had discovered that Crosby suffered some soft-tissue damage in his neck, which may have contributed to some of the concussion-like symptoms.
"As soon as I am (symptom-free), hopefully I'll be out there," Crosby said. "That's where I want to be."
Moving forward, Crosby said he will go back to skating on his own and doing "stuff the injured guys usually do." But for the first time since he was knocked out of action after a game against the Boston Bruins
on Dec. 5, Crosby got a chance to feel like he was a part of the team.
"You play hockey because you love being part of a team and being around that type of environment and that atmosphere," Crosby said. "When you're injured it's not like that, you're out there with one or two guys and working on your own. So it's nice to be with the group and sharing that with them."
Crosby took hard hits in consecutive games Jan. 1 and Jan. 5, 2011, and missed the remainder of the 2010-11 season and the first 20 games of the 2011-12 season before returning Nov. 21. However, the return lasted just eight games, with Crosby being hit several times Dec. 5 against the Bruins, bringing about another set of concussion issues.
Crosby, who skated on a line with Steve Sullivan
and Cal O'Reilly
on Monday, took a starring role at the end of practice for all the wrong reasons. He lost a shootout competition against fellow finalist Chris Kunitz
, but at least got a chance to feel some of the camaraderie he so sorely misses.
"That was rigged, for sure," Crosby said with a laugh. "I'm the one paying for hot dogs after the game. That was the loser's job."
Loser or not, Crosby looked quite sharp going regular drills with his teammates.
"He always looks good when he's got his gear on," Bylsma said with a smile. "He's an exceptional talent, so any time he gets on the ice, you see that."
While the practice may not have served as an indication of Crosby's imminent return, he did say his condition has been improving since doctors identified the problem with his neck, and he's been targeting his treatments in that area.
"The good news is seeing some progression, and with this stuff that's always what you're looking for. I feel like I've gotten better the last week or so and hopefully it keeps going the same way," Crosby said. "I think I'm really paying attention to the work on my neck and I think that's a big cause of it. So, like I said before, just being able to focus on that and hopefully seeing improvement with that is nice."
The foreseeable return of Staal and the more long-term prospect of having Crosby back brings a smile to Bylsma's face. When asked what he feels his team might need to add at the trade deadline, his response gave a little indication of how frustrating the Penguins' injuries have become.
"If we could trade for Sidney Crosby
at the deadline, that would be a good one," Bylsma said. "Getting healthy, getting everyone in our lineup, we obviously haven't had that in a long time and that's something we'd like to see at the end of the year and in playoffs."