PITTSBURGH, Pa. - More than a week after being cleared for contact during practice, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby still isn't experiencing much hitting.
Blame the Penguins demanding schedule, rather than any concern that Crosby still isn't ready for shoves, shoulder hits and slams into the glass.
With Pittsburgh playing its ninth game in 15 days against Montreal on Thursday night, the practices have been limited almost exclusively to game-day skates. The team has had only one off-day practice since doctors told Crosby that he was ready for full practices on Oct. 13.
Crosby stayed behind in Pittsburgh when the Penguins played at Winnipeg and Minnesota earlier this week so he could get more on-ice time, but he said the amount of contact didn't change.
"It will be nice to kind of get into those situations, not just being hit, but being able to go out there and think and react," Crosby said. "You can only do so many drills by yourself."
Even when Crosby is on the ice, his teammates are reluctant to hit the NHL's most celebrated player, one who was running away with the scoring race during a career-best season before he was hurt.
That doesn't mean Crosby isn't making discernible progress as he heals from a concussion that occurred the first week of January, or nearly 10 months ago. To a player like Crosby, that's an inordinate amount of time to be away.
"I don't think words can describe it ??? it's been a long time but, that being said, I've progressed a lot," Crosby said. "It's something I miss a ton, but I know at the same time I'm a whole lot closer than I was a month ago."
The Penguins schedule doesn't ease up for more than a week, with five more games in 10 days through Oct. 29. But there is a five-day break before a Nov. 11 home game against Dallas, and that might allow for more Crosby contact.
"I'm anxious for that for sure but, that being said, there needs to be times and situations and we haven't gotten a lot of those lately with our schedule," Crosby said. "As things go on, we'll get more and more time and hopefully get a better feel for where I'm at as far as contact is concerned."
Still, after being out so long, the 24-year-old Crosby said it's not just contact that he needs before resuming his career.
"As far as just feeling well, that's one thing, but you also have to make sure you're prepared to play," said Crosby. "When you haven't played a game in a lot of months, you've got to make sure that not only are you prepared to get hit, but you're also prepared to be successful out there."
Crosby's teammates are encouraged by the way he's skating and shooting the puck but, as defenseman Brooks Orpik said, practice cannot simulate games. Orpik planned to play Thursday for first time this season after undergoing off-season abdominal surgery.
Even with Crosby and Orpik out for eight games, and star centre Evgeni Malkin (right knee soreness) sidelined for all but three, the Penguins have picked up at least a point in all but two games.
"It's never easy watching, but it's always nice to see your team have success," said Crosby. "We've had a lot of adversity with injuries and we always seem to respond the right way. The start of this year, it hasn't been any different. We've played with a lot of guys in the lineup and that's not always easy to do but we've done a great job. Guys are committed and that's the sign of a good hockey team."
Partly because of Crosby's situation, the Penguins are pushing for the NHL to eliminate all dangerous hits to the head.
That's why Crosby is encouraged so far with the consistency of NHL vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan's disciplinary rulings ??? believing his stern stance against such hits are making the game safer yet are preserving much of the hitting that fans like.
"He's looked at each situation individually," Crosby said. "I think everything has been pretty well thought out, and the same message has been continued throughout and been consistent. And that's important. We still see some pretty big hits out there."