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Crosby skates with Penguins at practice, no timeline for return

Center joins teammates on ice for first time since core muscle surgery Nov. 14

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa . -- Sidney Crosby joined the Pittsburgh Penguins at a practice Tuesday for the first time since he had core muscle surgery Nov. 14, but said there's no timeline for his return.

The 32-year-old center skated with his teammates because of the scheduling of available ice time, and said he did not consider this his return to practice. Crosby said he expects to go back to skating on his own Wednesday and will not play against the San Jose Sharks at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; ATTSN-PT, NBCSCA, NHL.TV).

"There's still really no timeline," Crosby said. "It's gone well. It just takes time. You heal, and you need time to do that. I think with each week it's gotten better and better. That's the most important thing."

Crosby was the first player on the ice and wore a white no-contact jersey during a session that lasted about an hour. He was injured in a 3-2 shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 9, missed a 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Nov. 12 and had surgery two days later.

"It was bugging me a bit [before the game against Chicago]," Crosby said. "It was something that probably took what happened in that game to put it over the edge, but I think it's just something I had to deal with."

Video: Sidney Crosby will miss the next six weeks

The Penguins (24-11-4), who entered Tuesday second in the Metropolitan Division, are 14-5-3 without Crosby. They have won three games in a row, seven of eight and 10 of 12.

"The team's playing unbelievable," Crosby said. "For the last however long, even prior to when I got hurt, I think guys going down left and right and we still find ways to win. That's been great to see. I'll be back as soon as possible."

Crosby has 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 17 games.

"It's always a good sign when a guy joins the team for a practice," defenseman Kris Letang said. "He looked good. So it's encouraging."

Evgeni Malkin has become the first-line center in Crosby's absence, primarily playing with left wing Jake Guentzel and right wing Bryan Rust. He has 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) while having at least one point in each of his past nine games, a stretch that was interrupted by missing two games with an illness on Dec. 12 and 14.

Guentzel, who leads the Penguins in goals (20) and points (43), is expected to miss 4-6 months after having shoulder surgery Tuesday. After getting his 200th NHL point on a goal at 6:55 of the third period in a 5-2 win Monday, Guentzel tripped over Ottawa Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot and fell awkwardly into the boards.

The 25-year-old forward has mostly played on the first line with Crosby at center through his first four NHL seasons. He was named Monday to the Metropolitan Division team for the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend.

Pittsburgh is already without third-line center Nick Bjugstad (core muscle surgery), and defensemen Brian Dumoulin (ankle surgery) and Justin Schultz (lower body). Letang and forwards Jared McCann, Alex Galchenyuk, Patric Hornqvist, Malkin and Rust have returned from injuries through 39 games this season.

"I've always been a believer that this is a players' game," coach Mike Sullivan said. "The players are the guys that get it done. This group of players here deserves a lot of credit to this point."

The Penguins did not hold line rushes Tuesday. It hasn't been disclosed how the lineup would change with Crosby and Guentzel each out Thursday.

"The way everybody has stepped up, whether it's [Guentzel] or [Rust], or [Malkin] ... guys that know that they have to step up, they've done that," Crosby said. "But then there are other guys that have stepped up in different points. Whoever has been in the net has found a way to get big saves too.

"I think just seeing the collective effort that it's taken to this point, it's been great to see. You want to be a part of that."

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