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Crosby could return for Penguins against Coyotes

'I haven't ruled out anything,' says Pittsburgh captain, who has missed 27 games after core muscle surgery

by Alan Robinson / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Sidney Crosby was cleared for contact and practiced with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, and the center could return to the lineup against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on Sunday (6 p.m. ET; ESPN+, FS-A PLUS, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).

"We're encouraged by his progress and we'll take each day as it comes," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after practice. "We'll see how he responds and we'll make decisions accordingly.

"We're not ruling anything out; we're going to take each day as it comes."

Crosby said he's encouraged at being back on the ice after missing 27 games following core muscle surgery Nov. 14 but wouldn't guess when he'll be able to play. The Penguins begin a stretch of six games in 10 days on Sunday, and the Pittsburgh captain said he is planning to return before the NHL All-Star break begins Jan. 23.

"I haven't ruled out anything, but I haven't really discussed it [playing Sunday] much," Crosby said. "I'm sure I'll just see how I feel today. That'll be the first question and we'll kind of go from there. I think just getting back out there and feeling good and get better every day, that's the most important thing."

Video: COL@PIT: Crosby scores on backhand after nifty move

Crosby skated Tuesday and Wednesday and had a scheduled day off Thursday. He didn't take part in the morning skate as expected before a 4-3 overtime win at the Colorado Avalanche on Friday, with Crosby saying Saturday he was sick.

He was on the ice for nearly 90 minutes in his first full practice since being injured, working on the top power-play unit, then did multiple drills with several teammates after the full practice ended. He is trying to get in as much contact work as he can before returning.

The Penguins' busy schedule won't factor into when Crosby will return, he said.

"That's part of playing the season," he said. "You do everything to get ready and you trust that your body's in the right place to handle that. Either you're ready or you're not, and when you're ready, you're ready to handle that everyone has to play in those games. So I think, coming back, regardless of the schedule, I'll be ready."

Video: ANA@PIT: Letang sets up Crosby's power-play goal

The Penguins are 17-6-4 without Crosby, but Sullivan said the practice had a different feel to it because their captain was on the ice. Crosby, a three-time Stanley Cup-winning player in his 15th NHL season, has 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 17 games.

"When he practices, it's amazing the influence he has on our team, the pace of the practice just elevates significantly, and that's just a credit to how hard he works," Sullivan said. "His practice habits, it's contagious amongst our group and know our guys are excited when he's out there with us. It improves our team morale. Our energy's great today and we really liked the pace. We thought it was a fun practice."

The biggest challenge to coming back, Crosby said, is adjusting his timing from practice speed to game speed.

"Everything seems to happen pretty quick out there," he said. "When you're playing games, the game seems to slow down a little bit. But when you've missed an extended period of time, your timing [is off] and plays seem to develop a little bit quicker."

Forward Bryan Rust said the Penguins are eager for Crosby's return after two months.

"He's obviously been doing what's best for him," Rust said. "Just to have him on the bus, on the plane, in the hotel, just kind of joking around having a good time and being with the guys again, I think it's great for him and it's great for us."

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