-- Sidney Crosby
's return to the NHL won't come until at least Nov. 11, and even that is not a targeted date.
The day to look for? Crosby still isn't offering even a hint.
Crosby, speaking to reporters for the first time in more than a week, said Monday he won't play during the Pittsburgh Penguins
' two-game California road trip that begins Thursday at San Jose and wraps up Saturday in Los Angeles.
After that, the Penguins -- who have played an NHL-leading 13 games to date -- take a five-day break before facing Dallas at Consol Energy Center on Nov. 11.
With four practices scheduled this week, and as many as four more next week, Crosby finally may get the required contact he needs to be cleared to play for the first time since he sustained a concussion during the first week of January.
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"The timing is a bit better now with the practices we'll get in here shortly," Crosby said. "It (contact) still is a big test. I don't want to get too far ahead. I just want to make sure I make the most of that time."
Because he's been limited to about "three hits" since being cleared for full contact in practice Oct. 13, Crosby still isn't ready to return to a sport in which there is body contact on nearly every shift.
He also emphasized -- as he has since training camp started six weeks ago -- that he has not targeted any possible return date.
"It's not just an automatic thing," Crosby said following an hour-long practice at the Iceoplex at Southpointe rink. "To go through hitting is a big step. I just want to make sure I get through that. It's the most important thing -- however long that takes. I just want to make sure it goes well and (I) give myself the best chance to handle it."
Especially since the Penguins' season-opening flurry of games -- 13 in 24 days -- left little time for the kind of practices Crosby needs to prepare him to play for the first time in nearly 11 months.
Coach Dan Bylsma
couldn't be much more enthusiastic in describing how Crosby is practicing, calling it a superstar-type level. But he also cautioned that Crosby will not return until he is fully cleared medically and everyone involved is certain he is ready.
"He's been practicing at a high level for a while," Bylsma said. "If you watch him practice, you see speed and skill at a level that not many of us ever get to. At the same time, you have to understand the (importance of) rehab and him putting good days together, him getting in those (contact) situations. He's at a high level, but he's still in the process of rehabbing."
Crosby last played Jan. 5, when he absorbed a hard hit for the second time in five days. At the time, Crosby led the scoring race with 66 points in 41 games, putting him on pace for the highest-scoring season by an NHL player since Mario Lemieux
had 161 points in 1995-96.
"I think I'm getting more comfortable," Crosby said. "The more I can get in game situations, the better. I feel like each time we've done that, it's gotten easier and easier. It's a good sign."
So is this: Crosby said his conditioning is as good as it's going to get no matter how much longer he practices. And he has remained symptom-free since a few weeks before training camp started Sept. 17, probably the most encouraging sign of all.
"It's about as good as it’s going to get without playing a game," Crosby said. "You can only get to a certain point in practice. I feel like I'm in good shape. It's not game shape. You can't get that until you play."
His teammates and his coach can see it. Forward Pascal Dupuis
said Crosby looks like himself with his speed, stickhandling, instinctive reactions, playmaking and on-ice awareness, even though all this is occurring during the slower-than-game-speed setting of a practice.
"This little bit without games is going to help him. Practices out there, it's a little more contact, more game situations, more down-low plays, 3-on-3 battles along the walls -- and hopefully he'll react well to that," Dupuis said.
Crosby probably couldn't have reacted much better until now. As Bylsma, a former NHL forward, watched Evgeni Malkin
and Crosby practice together recently -- before Malkin returned from a five-game layoff with a sore right knee -- he found himself shaking his head in admiration.
"I joked and laughed (that) if that's what injured looks like, we should all long to be injured," Bylsma said.