PITTSBURGH (AP) - Penguins center Sidney Crosby has been cleared to return to Pittsburgh's morning skates on gamedays, but he will not participate in full practices, according to general manager Ray Shero.
Crosby, the Penguins' captain who has been out since Jan. 5 with a concussion, will travel with the team to Florida and partake in the morning skate Thursday prior to the game vs. Tampa Bay.
"It's a natural return for his progression here. His rehab has been ongoing," Shero said. "He's doing well with it, but at the same time, as a manager, I have no expectations of him coming back and playing in the regular season. That's not going to happen."
The next step is full practice, and then perhaps a return to game action in time for the postseason. Pittsburgh hopes to have him on the ice for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The game vs. the Lightning appears like a potential first-round preview.
Crosby began individual workouts on March 14, and has reported no setbacks.
"I just wanted to make sure there's not any miscommunication here as to where we're coming from. There's no strategic plan from myself and (coach) Dan Bylsma to reintroduce him in our lineup at any certain day or time," Shero said. "This is a complex injury. I think we all know that. I think we're happy as to where he is in terms of getting back on the ice. His off-ice program is continuing, which is good. That's really where we are."
With a chance to make a statement in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, the Penguins lost to the Flyers 5-2 at home. Now four points behind the Flyers - and Philadelphia has a game in hand, as well - it's more likely that the Penguins grab the No. 4 seed and gain home-ice advantage over the Lightning.
Crosby had 32 goals and 66 points at the time of his injury. Despite playing just 41 games, he is still the team's leading scorer.
"He's been dealing with this for almost three months. He does know his body well. He knows his injury at this point," Shero said. "My expectation, at this point, is that he's not going to push himself too much, but he'll push himself enough where he feels good. And if he doesn't, he'll pull back a little bit."