-- Sidney Crosby
's status for the start of training camp is the same as it was near the end of the Pittsburgh Penguins
' brief playoff run last spring: Cleared for practice but not for contact.
But any similarity between then and now for the Penguins' captain appears to be merely coincidental.
Crosby, out since Jan. 6 with a concussion that affected his vestibular system -- the part of the brain that allows an individual to stand upright, maintain balance and move through space -- will be pushed starting Saturday to a much greater extent than he was when he initially returned to practice March 31. Those workouts were cut short during the Penguins' first-round playoff loss to Tampa Bay.
Crosby also had to alter his normal offseason training regimen following the reoccurrence of the post-concussion symptoms that have now mostly vanished.
"I think camp will be a pretty good indication (of where I am)," Crosby said Friday. "It's going to be pretty intense. Even without contact, I'm sure it's going to be a pretty good pace. I'll see how things go then."
Center - PIT
GOALS: 32 | ASST: 34 | PTS: 66
SOG: 161 | +/-: 20
During the Penguins' informal workouts during the last week, coach Dan Bylsma
has liked everything about Crosby: The way he is shooting, the way he is moving, the way he looks like … well, No. 87.
"I think he's doing well, doing better and when you see him on the ice participating, you're going to see a guy who looks a lot like Sidney Crosby
looks on the ice," Bylsma said. "He's a talented player and you can see it when he steps on the ice. That's a positive thing."
Added Crosby: "I'm pretty happy with the way things have gone this past week or so. Exertion has been pretty high."
Still, the Penguins will not rush the player they consider to be the world's best, and Bylsma cautioned there remains no timetable as to when Crosby will be cleared for contact in practice -- the step he must take before he can play in games.
"There's not a realistic expectation, no prediction, no idea of a prediction. It's not really something we talk about in terms of can we put a prediction on it or can we put a timeline on it," Bylsma said.
Crosby also won't guess.
"I've been just kind of waiting to see how it goes Day One of camp and how I feel. So I haven't gotten that far," Crosby said. "I hope that everything goes well the next little bit and I'm not ruling that out at all."
During a detailed briefing Sept. 7 with the two concussion specialists who are treating him, the former Hart Trophy winner and NHL scoring champion said he began having post-concussion symptoms -- mainly headaches -- once he reached a 90 percent exertion level during his offseason workouts. He wouldn't estimate Friday where he is percentage-wise in his recovery from an injury that occurred following hard hits in successive games Jan. 1 and Jan. 5.
"It's hard to say what I've actually gone to. But I feel like I've done pretty good tests of exertion at different points and responded pretty well," he said. "I think the main thing is that I feel pretty comfortable and confident with where I'm at heading into camp."
What has been the best sign to this point?
"I'm pretty happy with the way things have gone this past week or so. Exertion has been pretty high." -- Sidney Crosby
"Whatever symptoms I've had have been pretty minimal. To be able to get cleared to do this is good," he said.
For now, Crosby is taking it day to day, seeing how he responds to doing everything he normally does during camp, except to take part in scrimmages. Crosby and his doctors will assess how he handles the workload and where he will go from there.
"You want to go out there and try to do the things you normally do and see how things go," Crosby said. "That being said, if everything is going well, you've got to use that time to get ready and get back in shape and timing and all of that stuff. It's been a long time since I've been out there with a group and it's been intense.
"The main thing is the stuff when it comes to feel and timing. Those are the things that you really have to focus on when you're in camp, whether that's coming off an injury or just coming off a normal summer."
Also coming off an injury is the Penguins' other star, former scoring champion Evgeni Malkin
. He didn't play after tearing two knee ligaments Feb. 4, but went through an intense series of workouts this summer in his native Russia.
While he recently estimated he is fully covered, he hedged that a bit Friday and said he's probably at about 90 percent. At least for now he will wear a brace on his right knee, if only for precautionary reasons.
"Hopefully I'll play at the same level I played at before," said Malkin, whose production dropped off after he won the Conn Smythe Trophy following the Penguins' Stanley Cup victory in 2009.
Bylsma can't remember seeing a more motivated Malkin, and maybe Malkin's statistics explain why. After getting 106 points in 2007-08 and an NHL-high 113 points in 2008-09, Malkin had 77 points in 67 games in 2009-10 and 37 points in 43 games before getting hurt last season.
Those aren't the Malkin-like numbers that he himself expects.
"Part of the process for Geno right now is this will be a level (of exertion) you don't get in the offseason," Bylsma said. "He's worked very hard and been very diligent but he will be taxed every day. I think he feels good, feels confident and he looks confident. He's a motivated guy right now."
The Penguins first two days of training camp starting Saturday at Consol Energy Center will be open to the public. They start the season Oct. 6 at Vancouver.