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Crosby eager to raise another Cup banner to rafters with Penguins

Captain hopes to play all 82 games, ready for challenges that await defending champions

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- When the Pittsburgh Penguins raised their 2016 Stanley Cup banner before their opening game last season, Sidney Crosby stood with his teammates, enjoying the moment.

Crosby had made a grand entrance, skating out in full uniform with the Stanley Cup raised above his head, thrilling the fans at PPG Paints Arena who weren't sure whether the Penguins captain would make an on-ice appearance because of a concussion he sustained during a training camp practice. When the ceremony was over, however, Crosby returned to the locker room to take off his equipment while his teammates started the season without him, defeating the Washington Capitals 3-2 in a shootout.

"It was tough," he said Tuesday. "With the concussion too, you're thinking, 'Is this going to be one game?'"

The Penguins will raise another Stanley Cup banner before they open this season at home against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV). This time, Crosby will get to stick around after the ceremony and play in the game.

He prefers it this way.

"It's great having that mindset going into Game 1 knowing that you're starting fresh like everyone else and I'll be excited to be a part of it," he said.

Crosby missed the first six games last season, but it didn't slow him or the Penguins in their quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Crosby led the NHL with 44 goals and was tied with Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks for second in the League with 89 points, 11 back of Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. McDavid (1.22) was the only player in the League to average more points per game than Crosby (1.19).

Crosby followed up by scoring 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists) in 24 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to win the Conn Smythe Trophy for the second year in a row in helping the Penguins become the NHL's first repeat champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

Video: Can the Penguins win a third consecutive Stanley Cup

Although he turned 30 on Aug. 7, Crosby is at the top of his game as the Penguins begin their quest to become the first team to win the Stanley Cup in three consecutive seasons since the New York Islanders did in four seasons in a row from 1980-83. With all the talk about what McDavid, 20, will be able to do with another season under his belt, Crosby would love to find out what he can do if he can put together a full, healthy season.

Heading into his 13th NHL season, Crosby has never played in all 82 games. He came close twice, getting to 81 games in his rookie season in 2005-06 when he missed one game with the flu and in 2009-10 when he sat out a game after tweaking his groin in the morning skate.

That season, Crosby scored an NHL career-high 51 goals, which tied Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the most in the League. He also tied Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin for second in the NHL in points with 109 (behind Vancouver Canucks forward Henrik Sedin, who had 112), which is the second highest total in his career behind the 120 (36 goals, 84 assists) he had in 2006-07.

"I'd love to play 82," Crosby said. "Ever since I missed a big chunk of time. I've always had that in the back of my mind that I want to get full seasons in."

Crosby's injury history has been well-documented. During the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, he missed 108 games because of concussion-related issues. Then, he missed 13 games (including the first game in the playoffs) with a fractured jaw in 2012-13, but was able to stay relatively healthy after that until his concussion in training camp last season.

Since getting off to a terrible start in 2015-16, when he had 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in the first 30 games with the Penguins struggling before Mike Sullivan took over as coach, he's been on a roll offensively. Crosby's 155 points (74 goals, 81 assists) in his past 125 games are the most in the League in that span with Kane second with 149 (61 goals, 88 assists) in 132 games.

Video: Sidney Crosby comes in at No. 2 on the list

If Crosby continues that pace and plays in all 82 games this season, he'd finish with 49 goals, the second most in his career, and 102 points, his most since he had 104 (36 goals, 68 assists) in 2013-14.

"Every season kind of presents its own challenges, so we'll see," Crosby said. "We've all prepared. I've prepared to get ready here and we'll see what happens. But as far as looking at it as a whole, I really don't like doing that. I really don't because things change, momentum and things like that. I'm just excited to get going.

"It's been an awesome summer and some great things, but this is why you play, to get in the season, get in the routine and start trying to accomplish something again."

That, and not his statistics, is what Crosby will be thinking about after the 2017 Cup banner reaches the rafters Wednesday. The celebration of last season will be over and he won't have to watch the new season start without him this time.

"That whole night and everything that comes along with it, seeing the banner go up, it kind of puts a closing on everything," he said. "So it's great to see all the things that come with it, but then it's pretty quick to realize that, 'Hey, we've got to turn the page here and we're starting fresh and we've got to try to do it all over again.'"

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