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Crosby could travel with Penguins on road trip

Center has missed 23 games, won't play next two; no time-table for return

by Wes Crosby / Independent Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Sidney Crosby could travel with the Pittsburgh Penguins on a three-game road trip that starts Tuesday.

The center, who had core muscle surgery Nov. 14 and has missed the past 23 games, said he plans to skate on his own when Pittsburgh plays a back-to-back this weekend, starting with a game at the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CITY, SNE, TVAS, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).

Crosby won't play the next two games but said it hasn't been decided if he will take the scheduled flight Monday before the Penguins play at the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.

"I'm not sure yet. We're going to figure it out over the weekend here," Crosby said. "Probably skating over the weekend while the team's gone. It would be great to be around the group. It's been awhile, but whatever's best as far as me getting back."

Crosby wore a no-contact jersey to start practice Friday. He changed into a regular black sweater before joining Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist, with Jared McCann and Bryan Rust alternating, on the top power-play unit during drills.

"I think getting on the power play and that kind of thing, it helps to just have a few bodies out there," Crosby said. "More game-like, as opposed to skating by yourself. It's also a bit of a tease too. It's still good to be out there with the guys, though."

The Penguins captain did not participate in line rushes. Without Crosby, Malkin remained at first-line center with left wing Alex Galchenyuk and Rust at right wing.

Crosby was the final player to leave the ice after staying on for about 80 minutes.

"I think I've been progressing each week," Crosby said. "I'm happy about that. Obviously, I'd love to be out there right now, but it's just something that when it's time, I'll be out there."

Crosby first joined the Penguins for practice Tuesday before skating on his own Wednesday. He skated with his teammates Tuesday because that was the only ice time available and said that was the case again Friday.

That won't change until Crosby is prepared to take contact.

"That's a big step," Crosby said. "Once you're cleared for contact, you see how things respond from there. But I'm not ready for that yet. Until then, I think I'll probably flip-flop between doing my own stuff and skating with the injured guys, and then going with the team depending on the practice."

Crosby's presence has provided a boost for his teammates, coach Mike Sullivan said.

"It's great for our team morale," Sullivan said. "Our guys love it when he's out there. He's obviously making progress. We're excited about that. But it's great to see him back with the team."

When he returns, Crosby will not have first-line left wing Jake Guentzel, who is expected to miss 4-6 months after having shoulder surgery Tuesday. Guentzel leads the Penguins with 20 goals and 43 points.

Pittsburgh is also without defensemen Brian Dumoulin (ankle surgery) and Justin Schultz (lower body), and third-line center Nick Bjugstad (core muscle surgery). Bjugstad has started skating on his own; Dumoulin and Schultz have not.

The Penguins are 14-5-4 without Crosby. He has 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 17 games this season, his 15th in the NHL.

"I think any team that goes through adversity and is able to come out of it the right way and uses it as an opportunity, whether it's as a group or individually, I think that always helps," Crosby said. "Successful teams always have those points, whether it's any point during the regular season or playoffs, or anything like that. Obviously, our mindset is the playoffs.

"We've done a good job of being in the picture. Not just that but playing really well. ... Every team needs to go through that."

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