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Sidney Crosby lifts Penguins' spirits

Captain to miss opener because of concussion, but presence in practice boosts teammates

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Sidney Crosby will be in street clothes when the Pittsburgh Penguins raise their 2015-16 Stanley Cup banner to the PPG Paints Arena rafters prior to their season opener against the Washington Capitals on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports 2, NHL.TV).

As disappointing as that will be for Crosby, the Penguins and their fans, Crosby was smiling Wednesday. It had been another good day for the Penguins captain in his recovery from a concussion.

Crosby was on the ice for the second day in a row. After skating on his own for about an hour on Tuesday, Crosby again skated on his own on Wednesday and shot pucks at goalie development coach Mike Chiasson for about 35 minutes before joining his teammates for practice.

Although Crosby was held out of contact drills, it was a significant step for him and a sign that, hopefully, it won't be long before he's ready to play.

"I think it's good I'm on the ice," he said. "That's always a good sign."

Having been through this before, Crosby knows not to "get too high with a little bit of progress." This is his third concussion in six years. The first two caused him to miss 101 regular-season games over the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.

Although it appears this concussion won't keep him out nearly as long, Crosby remains cautious.

"It's great to be on the ice. That's the best part," he said. "As long as I'm on the ice and things are going well, I'm happy. Maybe it takes longer. Maybe it doesn't. You just look for progress. That's the main thing. I don't think I'm going to get caught up in too much. You just approach it with a day-to-day mentality and make sure you're improving."

Having Crosby on the ice for practice on Wednesday appeared to give the Penguins a lift. There's always concern for a player when he is diagnosed with a concussion. When it's Crosby, because of his past troubles and because of how important he is to the Penguins, it's understandable if there's a little more anxiety.

"Knowing his history with concussions, it's great to see him out there," forward Nick Bonino said. "He's been in good spirits the last four days. It's very precautionary the way concussion system is built right now and I think that's good. It benefits the players and their long-term health. We'd like Sid back as soon as he's healthy enough to go. It helps our team if he misses a couple games and then he's fully healthy rather come back (too) early."

Video: Penguins announce Crosby diagnosed with concussion

Looking at the larger picture, the Penguins have big plans for this season. With minimal changes to the roster that won the Stanley Cup last season, they believe they have a good chance to become the first team to repeat as champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

"That is the feeling, but you know you can't think too far ahead," forward Carl Hagelin said. "We've got to focus on the games coming up here. We've got to find our game. You never know what it's going to be like in the beginning of the year. … It's time to start a new journey and a new chapter and we're all looking forward to it."

But that journey would be far more difficult without a healthy Crosby. He was at the top of his game in winning the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy last season and played even better in captaining Team Canada to the championship at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in September.

He was named the tournament MVP after leading the World Cup with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in six games.

"The fact that he was out there with us today, going out for a few drills, means a lot to this team," Hagelin said. "He's our leader. He's our MVP. That definitely gives us some energy. Most importantly, that means that he's feeling better."

A few days ago, the outlook for Crosby and the Penguins was much cloudier. He had planned to play in the Penguins' final preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, but said he had a headache that day after getting "tangled up" during practice on Friday.

The diagnosis of a concussion came on Monday, but everything has been positive since then. Although Crosby reported no setbacks after skating on Tuesday, he warned "it could happen today."

"You might write something or say something today and it may change tomorrow," he said.

Although the raising of that Stanley Cup banner will signal the end of the celebration of last season's success and the beginning of the new season, not having Crosby in uniform for it won't matter as much as him getting completely healthy and staying that way.

"It's a game you want to be a part of, but at the same time, I think I've spent more than enough time with being in this situation," Crosby said. "So I think you understand you have to be patient and you have to make sure you listen to your body. If you're ready, you're ready. If not, then you don't take any chances and give yourself a lot better chance of not having it happen again if you treat it the right way. It's just something you have to be smart with."

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