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Crosby has a strong day of practice

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Sidney Crosby was the first player on the ice for Penguins' practice at Ice Den Scottsdale on Saturday, wearing a regular black jersey.

He was a full participant in the team session, doing line rushes and working on the first power-play unit. After practice officially wrapped up, he stayed on the ice for extra work. 

Overall, Crosby remained on the ice for about an hour and a half as he works toward a return from undergoing core muscle surgery on Nov. 14.

"He obviously had another strong day today," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. "We're encouraged by his progress. We'll take each day as it comes. We'll see how he responds and we'll make decisions accordingly."

While Crosby is not ruled out for Sunday's game against Arizona, the team is going to continue going to take each day as it comes.

"I haven't ruled out anything, but I haven't really discussed it much," Crosby said. "I'm sure I'll see how I felt today. That'll be the first question, then I'll go from there. But I think just getting back out there and feeling good and getting better every day, that's the most important thing and that's the way it's gone."

Crosby said he is hopeful that he will be able to play before the All-Star break begins on Jan. 22, but the team has a tough schedule leading up to it with a lot of games in a short period of time. 

Because of that, it has been a challenge for Crosby to get the practice time he needs on this road trip, which began when the team left on Monday for Vegas. 

"We're trying to manage workloads and we're trying to give the players an opportunity to recover," Sullivan said. "And so the challenge for the guys that are in the rehab process and being reintroduced into the team environment is trying to get them into team practices and get them the workload that they need."

Crosby skated on his own Tuesday before joining the morning skate ahead of Pittsburgh's game against the Golden Knights that evening.

From there, the original plan was for Crosby to practice on Wednesday in Vegas, but the team ended up having a mostly optional skate. So Crosby skated with forward Nick Bjugstad (core muscle) and defenseman Justin Schultz (lower body) ahead of the scheduled start time before being joined by a few other Penguins.

"It's too bad I missed that one the other day," Crosby said. "It's just the way it goes. I'm trying to get a little bit of (contact) in when I can."

After that, Crosby had a scheduled day off on Thursday. He was supposed to take the ice on Friday, but didn't skate because he was sick. 

And while Crosby was able to practice today, there was a scary moment when an errant shot from Patric Hornqvist caught him in the top of the helmet. Fortunately, Crosby was completely fine.

"The hockey gods don't want me in the lineup right now, I guess," Crosby joked with a laugh. "Glad it didn't get me in the head. You can look at it two different ways, right? Didn't get hit in the face and I'm here to talk about it and laugh about it. Just another bit of adversity in the whole getting back."

The positive is that Crosby is back around the team for the first time in a long time, which is a huge boost for everyone.

"It's great," he said. "That's what you're used to and I think that's what you get in the habit of as a player, just being around teammates and the camaraderie and all the things that come with that. It's part of what I love about the game. Being back in that environment definitely feels good."

To have Crosby back on the bus, on the plane and in the hotel is fantastic. And to have him back on the ice is even better.

"When he practices, it's amazing the influence he has on our team," Sullivan said. "The pace of the practice just elevates significantly. I think that's just a credit to how hard he works and his practice habits. It's contagious amongst our group. I know our guys are excited when he's out there with us. I think it improves our team morale. Our energy was great today. We really liked the pace. And we thought Sid had a strong practice."

The Penguins did two sets of line rushes. Jared McCann and Dominik Simon alternated on Crosby's left wing, while Patric Hornqvist stayed on his right. Here's the workflow…

McCann/Simon-Crosby-Hornqvist

Kahun-Malkin-Rust

Aston-Reese--Blueger-Tanev

Galchenyuk-Agozzino-Lafferty

Blandisi

Johnson-Letang

Pettersson-Marino

Riikola-Ruhwedel

Crosby also worked on the first power-play unit with Letang, Malkin and Hornqvist, with Rust and Galchenyuk alternating.

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