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Sidney Crosby 'so excited to be back out there'

Penguins captain scores in season debut after sitting first six games with concussion

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- The Kid is all right.

Sidney Crosby came back from a concussion and looked like himself Tuesday.

He scored on the power play in the Pittsburgh Penguins' 3-2 victory against the Florida Panthers at PPG Paints Arena, wristing a shot from the slot and sparking a comeback from a 2-0 hole.

He threw a hit. He took a hit. He made a deft backhand pass. He kicked the puck up to his stick on the rush. He skated around one defenseman to get off a shot and powered through another to get to the net. He led the Penguins with four shots on goal.

By his measure, he was just "OK." He had missed the Penguins' first six games and had gone through only one full practice in more than two weeks.

"I think timing and just as far as execution, I think I need to work on that a little bit," he said.

But is there any doubt in his mind that he can return to the level at which he had been playing since the second half of last season?

"It's not going to happen overnight," he said. "But yeah. I don't see why not."

Video: FLA@PIT: Crosby blisters a wrist shot into the twine

That's huge, because that level was the highest in hockey.

Starting on Dec. 18, a little after the Penguins hired coach Mike Sullivan, Crosby re-established himself as the best player in the world. He had 30 goals and 36 assists in the Penguins' final 50 games last season. He was runner-up for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.

Then he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after helping the Penguins win the Cup. Then he was named MVP of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 after helping Team Canada win the championship.

Then something happened Oct. 7 -- Crosby and the Penguins won't say what -- in his second practice with the Penguins after returning from the World Cup. He woke with a headache Oct. 8 and did not play in Pittsburgh's final preseason game. He participated in a fan fest Oct. 9 and missed practice Oct. 10, when he underwent testing and doctors diagnosed the concussion.

It was concerning, even though Crosby felt well enough to skate on his own the next day and kept skating almost every day. You never know with concussions, and injuries, including two concussions, already had cost him 161 NHL games of his prime. They already had cost him the Hart Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring champion at least twice.

Crosby had 32 goals and 66 points through 41 games in 2010-11, putting him on pace for 64 goals and 132 points, the best season the NHL would have seen since the 1990s, when he sustained his first concussion. He sat out the rest of the season.

He came back in November 2011 but played eight games before concussion symptoms sidelined him again. He ended up playing 22 games in 2011-12.

He had 15 goals and 41 assists through 36 games of the 48-game schedule in 2012-13. He was the runaway favorite for the Hart Trophy again. But he broke his jaw, missed the last quarter of the season and finished second in the voting.

Now what? How long would he sit out this time? How much would this one cost him? He was 29. His prime wouldn't last forever.

You would have to be a neurologist and know all the details to make a fully informed judgment. But it appears everything went well with this concussion, from how it was handled to how Crosby responded to it, and that's important considering the nature of the injury, Crosby's history and the example he sets for others inside and outside of the NHL.

The Penguins did not say Crosby had an "upper-body injury" or a "mild concussion." They publicly announced that Crosby had a concussion and did not give a timetable for his return, listing him as day to day.

Crosby knew what to expect from the process, most importantly to be patient, as hard as that was to do. He made steady progress. He underwent a lot of testing. He didn't assume he was fine after he had one or two days without symptoms, knowing he could regress. It wasn't until he had four or five days without symptoms, including after that full practice Monday, that he was confident he was ready.

On his first shift Tuesday, he skated right at Panthers defenseman Jason Demers along the boards, lowered his left shoulder and knocked Demers down. On his second shift, he initiated contact with Panthers center Jared McCann and won a puck battle.

"I think when you miss that much time, you just try to get involved early, whether it's taking a hit or giving a hit," Crosby said. "So excited to be back out there, and just trying to get involved right away."

He didn't seem tentative in 18:02 of ice time, and he can't afford to be tentative the way he plays, flying up the ice, buzzing in the corners, going to the net.

"I thought he had a real good start tonight," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "For me, he didn't miss a beat out there. He was winning faceoffs. He was battling down low. He brought a lot of speed to the game. He scored a big goal for us. So there's no reason [to think he can't return to the same level]. I think Sid's going to be fine."

The rest of the NHL got a head start on Crosby. Entering Tuesday, four players were tied for the League scoring lead with nine points. But now Crosby has one point and 75 games to catch up.

"It's a long season," Crosby said. "But I just …"

He paused.

"I'm happy to be back playing here," he continued. "It's my first game, and hopefully can play the rest of the season here."

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