BOCA RATON, Fla.
-- Sidney Crosby
announced Tuesday that he would return for a crucial Atlantic Division contest Thursday against the New York Rangers
While Crosby was delivering his long-awaited news to the media in Pittsburgh, Penguins General Manager Ray Shero
was ensconced in a board room at the Boca Raton Beach Club, discussing the minutiae of potential rule changes during Day 2 of the NHL's GM meetings.
Have no fear, though -- the good news travelled fast.
"He's worked hard to try to get back, and like I've said for a while, he's a hockey player that wants to play the game of hockey and I know our team is looking forward to him back in our lineup and looking forward to Thursday night," Shero said just moments after popping out of the meeting room.
"He's worked hard to try to get back, and like I've said for a while, he's a hockey player that wants to play the game of hockey and I know our team is looking forward to him back in our lineup and looking forward to Thursday night."
-- Penguins General Manager Ray Shero
Crosby has been out of the Penguins' lineup since appearing in a game Dec. 5, which was the eighth game in his return from a concussion he first suffered in January 2011. Crosby had 2 goals and 10 assists in that eight-game run.
The Penguins' captain also missed the final 41 games of the 2010-11 season and the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the concussion, which developed after he was hit hard in successive games Jan. 1 and Jan. 5, 2011. Crosby sat out the first 20 games of this season before making his comeback on Nov. 21.
Crosby was cleared for contact a week ago and returned to practice, but he didn't believe he had absorbed enough contact in drills to play a home game Sunday against the Bruins. Now he has declared himself ready to re-enter the NHL.
"He feels great," Shero said. "There's no symptoms. It's three months now, so he has had lots of time to heal and train and get ready to play the game again.
This January, Crosby met with specialists other than those who have been treating him in Pittsburgh, and he was diagnosed and treated for a soft-tissue injury in his neck. Crosby believes this diagnosis helped get him back on the ice before the end of the season.
Shero was unsure how much the neck treatments played in Crosby's return, but he knows this is an opportunity that Crosby has been training for relentlessly since he was cleared for on-ice activities, which most often occurred with just the Penguins' other injured players or by himself.
"The stuff he has done off the ice, he is in great shape," Shero said. "This isn't a guy that has been off for three months and hasn't done anything. He's obviously in great shape. He needs some games and I think that was a goal for him to come back this season and not come back for the first, second or third game of the playoffs.
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"He wanted to come back as soon as he could -- obviously to help the hockey team, but also to get back in the swing of things and prepare for the playoffs."
And there is little doubt that adding one of the game's elite talents -- Crosby had 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games last season before he was sidelined by his first concussion -- boosts Pittsburgh's chances to go deep in the playoffs.
In fact, Shero sees it as more important than any acquisition at the NHL trade deadline, which passed last month without a move by the Penguins.
"Up to the trade deadline, we did scenarios with him in the lineup, with him out of the lineup and what the lines might look like, but to have him back in… It's always in the back of your mind, maybe he might come back, and if he does, how great that would be for our hockey team," Shero said. "We're potentially getting Kris Letang
back at some point, and adding two players like that is great for our team. He (Crosby) is the captain of our team, so it is important for us."
Letang, the team's top defenseman, is out with a concussion, as well. However, he skated again Tuesday and Shero hopes Letang will be back soon.
"As we go along this week we'll hopefully have some updates, but so far so good," Shero said.
The Penguins have three games in four days starting Thursday against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Pens play New Jersey on Saturday and bitter rival Philadelphia on Sunday.
Shero said such a heavy workload shouldn't impact Crosby in his return. Shero also confirmed that Crosby will start against the Rangers on Pittsburgh's third line -- between Matt Cooke
and Tyler Kennedy
-- allowing coach Dan Bylsma
to keep the team's top two lines, which currently are experiencing plenty of success, intact.
"We'll keep those top two lines the same and as the game goes on we might move him (Crosby) around a bit, depending on how he is feeling and how the game is going," Shero said. "Those things, as to where he is going to play and how much, I will leave to the coach. Sid will tell him how he is playing.
"The three (games) in four days -- we just have to get some feedback from him as we go along to as he is feeling. If there is any reason to pull back, then we will do that. If not, it's certainly full steam ahead."