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Penguins Report: Game Day vs. NY Islanders (Crosby Returns Edition)

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

2:01 PM:
Noted from earlier, the Pens top PP unit will look like this:
Neal (net-front)
Crosby (goal line)
Malkin (halfwall)
Sullivan (off point)
Letang (point)

1:46 PM:
The media quarantines Crosby at his stall. Somewhere in that mass of bodies is the captain (and me!!!)

1:42 PM:
Not only are Crosby and Michalek playing tonight, so are the Islanders. Here's the scoop on the Isles.

1:29 PM:
Here is footage of Crosby's morning skate. If you don't think Sid's had contact in practice, just watch Brent Johnson give him some bumps.

1:08 PM:
Because you've been patient, I will reward you with the Verizon Game Day Report. You are welcome.

1:03 PM:
Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma. Today's topics: Supercommittee; the Gingrich surge; forget...oops...oh Yeah!!!! Sidney Crosby!!!!

On how he plans to coach tonight's game:
I'm not sure exactly how the emotion of the game tonight, the energy in the building, and the emotions of our team are going to play out along with the fact that Sidney will be in the lineup. If you have any suggestions about that one, I'll take them. We're at Game 21. We're playing a team that has struggled and not done well coming off a tough loss and we're coming off a game where we haven't played very well and our focus today is about getting to do what we need to do to win the game tonight. Our details and how we need to play and Sidney is a part of that. We've already addressed some of that situation and we're going to do that going into the game tonight. He's going to be playing next to Kunitz and Dupuis because that's probably the most comfortable spot for him to be in. We're going to start off getting right to where we need to as a team and that's what is important about our game tonight and we'll all be excited to see how the building is when he comes out and anticipate some of the energy in the game including Sidney's focus.

On when he knew that Crosby was coming back:
This week we knew Sidney was continuing and progressing on his rehab and was doing well, knew that we were getting close, and knew also that he was going to be seeing a doctor Sunday. There was a slight anticipation talking to Sid the past few days that possibly Monday would be the day. I knew he had the doctor yesterday morning and met with them. I heard from Ray Shero at my kid's game. I was watching my son play yesterday and Ray called. I anticipated a phone call at that time. That's where I heard about it. I talked to Sidney shortly after that and confirmed that he was playing in the game. I was sitting in that crowd, my wife was there, some family was around, some Penguin's fans were around and I always get the question if there is a predetermined date. My wife gave away the tickets for tonight's game two days ago, so my family doesn't have tickets for tonight's game. I found out then and I figured like everybody else that our team was going to get word quicker than I could give it to them and it turns out that was the case.

On his comfort level with Crosby getting hit:
Sidney's been involved in contact drills where he could get hit, could get bumped for going to the net for the better part of three weeks. I think if you were looking for one big center ice collision or some run the gauntlet where we had our biggest player run into Sidney, that's not how to progress back to being ready for playing in a game. He's gotten knocked down, he's gotten hit, he gone to the net, he been thrown into the boards, he's hit other people in the course of the drills and jostling. I'm completely comfortable that he's taken contact. Is it as much as Steve McIntyre running into you? No, but he's gone through those things.

On the benefit of having Michalek in the lineup:
The pairings for tonight's game will be Martin-Michalek, Orpik-Letang, and Niskanen-England. What is does for our defense is it really gives you two strong matchup, top four defensemen. "Z" is a guy who is first over the boards on the penalty kill and excels in that area of the game for us and he'll be that guy for us again tonight playing with Paul Martin. That's where the two of them have played their best and that's together. They've played a lot of games together and they've been a shutdown pair together. I think when you start the season, you look at those guys being together and we are going to get that again tonight and we think that's a really good six defensemen.

On how he expects the opponents to be with Crosby in the lineup:
The coaches’ decisions and the opponents will match up against our team. It's different when it's just Staal in our lineup, when it's Malkin in our lineup, and it changes dramatically when it's Crosby, Malkin and Staal. There's three pretty good centermen down the middle of the ice and it's tough to matchup against all three of those guys. If Staal's going against the other team's best line, depending on how the team plays their defensemen it really changes the dynamic of the game when all three of them are in there together. I think it's one of the most comfortable positions to be in when all three of them are in there to coach because they are more concerned about it than our team is. We have two guys that are very good defensive centermen as well. The dynamic changes for the opposition and we'll see what happens tonight. They'll have to decide what they're going to do with different lines and matchups.

On how Michalek and Crosby will effect special teams:
Two of our better players in all situations, I hope it's a big boost. Our penalty kill has been very good. Our success rate has been very good. We've given up four goals our last two games, that does happen in the course of a year where you run into those situations. I think getting Z back tonight in particular gives you a little bit of a boost and a focus to getting back to what we do well and what we need to do well to be a good penalty killing crew. We've talked about our power play a lot in the last three years, with and without Sidney, if the practice and the morning skate was any indication, Steve Sullivan is going to get a few more goals in his game than he has been. We'll see, there's some things we need in our power play. Sidney's obviously going to be dangerous. He's going to be playing closer to the net tonight then where we've seen him be in the past. Hopefully we can get him in our power play to do things that are necessary. Sidney's dangerous and I think Sullivan adds a dynamic to our power play that we have not had. It will be nice to see them get together and do some damage.

Life can change, you're not stuck in vain: Kaitlin Zurawsky

12:50 PM:

Malkin: "Sid, I tweet you play." (left); Martin & Sullivan compete for creepiest mustache (right)

All eyes on Sid during coaching session (left); Staal chats with Crosby. Sid is like the center of attention today #WhyIsEverybodySoObsessedWithMe (right)

 12:41 PM:
Islanders pics...

Rookie goalie Nilsson will start in net. First career NHL start (left); DiPietro will back - and maybe come in for a shootout #FlashBackHumor (right)

Islander: "Does this orange bring out my eyes?" (left); Where's Mark Eaton? If you find him then you win 50 points (right)

Shooter pose

12:36 PM:
Pens players react to Crosby's return...

Chris Kunitz

On how happy he is to see Sidney Crosby back in the lineup:
He’s a huge part. He’s our captain, our leader. Even if he wasn’t in the lineup we all know he can help.

On how ready he looks in practice:
He obviously knows. He thought he looked good one of the first days of training camp. He’s always had that special skill set when he’s out there scoring goals. We’ve seen it for months now. It’s a great thing for the organization and for the team to get him back.

On when he found out that he would be reunited with Crosby and Pascal Dupuis on the same line:
Just today when he gave us the lineup. Maybe a little comfort there since we’ve played together in previous (games) and had some success together. We know there’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment period. You got to get out there, you got to work hard and do the things that help us play on his line. That’s the thing that makes us successful.

On what made their line click last year:
Speed that Duper and I can help with the line and cause confusion, forecheck, pucks to turnover and be able to keep up with Sid when he’s going at full speed. He’s a guy that kind of demands the puck when he’s skating out there. He always looks kind of open with his speed and ability to create open spaces out there. Sid was on such a great run it made it kind of easy for his wingers to play with him.

On if they’ll talk about anything different before tonight’s game:
No I don’t think so. Just take it back to the same routine you’ve had before. I wouldn’t prepare any different. Obviously it’s nice to have him back, chit-chat a little to see how he’s feeling or what he’s thinking out there. He’s one of the best players in the world for a reason. He goes out there and creates plays on the ice.

On where he feels Crosby is game wise:
It’s obviously tough to get into game shape with as much skating in practice as you do to duplicate what you have to do on the ice. You got to expect the same things as you usually do, maybe not the mass minutes that he usually has, but definitely his knowledge of the ice when the puck’s not there, driving to the net, getting the pucks to areas where he thinks guys are going to be.

Pascal Dupuis

On when if he found out Crosby was coming back at the same time as everyone else:
Probably after, when my daughter went online and basically the website popped up announcing Sidney Crosby's coming back.

On if he thinks reuniting the Dupuis-Crosby-Kunitz line will make it easier:
I think it probably will. We've played together quite a bit and that's what he knows. Hopefully it will work.

On how excited he is:
Yes, I'm pretty excited about it to have him back in the lineup. Obviously everybody in the league is excited to see him back, especially his teammates. It's great to see him out there. I can't wait for tonight.

On how more successful he thinks the team will be:
I keep saying Sid is a piece of the puzzle, probably the biggest one if you ask around. He is a piece of the puzzle that we do all play as a team and we all dedicate ourselves to. He's one of those guys that does it with more talent, with more awareness on the ice, he does everything the right way.

Jordan Staal

On if the team may be too excited for Crosby’s return:
I think we’re all just really excited. Obviously, no one wants to be injured and especially out for that long. I’ve been there, missing half a season, definitely a lot of excitement. I think me watching him comeback, I’m just really excited for him and happy.

On what you can expect from a player after coming back from such a long absence:
He’s a totally different player than I am, but it’s not going to be easy. You know he can make it look easy. A lot of it is timing and stuff like that, just being in game shape. You can’t really do it unless you go through it. He’s talented enough that he can do a lot of great things and we’ll see how he does.

On if the return of Crosby raises their chances of winning a Stanley Cup:
I think our expectations have always been high. With or without Sid we wanted to win every night and we had a chance to win every night. Obviously it’s going to be difficult with him coming back, everyone fitting in and having the pieces together. Hopefully can string a few games and we’ll see what the media says about our team then.

Evgeni Malkin

On having Sid back in the lineup:
I think everyone’s happy. Everyone knows how great Sid plays. Just good luck and we’re all excited. Big game tonight.

On how hard it is the first game back from injury:
It’s really tough, not playing close to a year, it’s really tough. Sid’s worked hard in practice everyday. We’ve seen how hard he’s worked and I hope he’s feeling great. He’ll help us on our team.

On if he saw that he was close to coming back:
I think he worked really hard in practice. He’s a great guy and awesome player and every practiced he worked hard.
Our lives forever changes: Justin Criado & Kaitlin Zurawsky

12:15 PM:
As #ZWatch comes to an end, Michalek talks about rejoining the lineup:

On returning:
I feel good. Obviously I'm ready to go. It's nice to be back in the lineup.
On working on his conditioning:
I was able to skate while I was out a lot. It didn't take me long to get back and feeling good.
On healing from a broken finger:
I had broken bones before. It took me in the past about four weeks. I was expecting about the same. I was happy to be back.
On returning from an injury last season:
Last year I was coming to a new team and new organization. Being hurt early wasn't the best thing for me. But now I know what I'm coming back into.
On Crosby's return:
Obviously it's exciting. I'm really happy for Sid. It's been a long time for him, a lot of pressure on him. It's good to have him back. He's the leader of our team. It means a lot.

Time is never time at all: Josh Yohe

11:45 AM:
Sidney Crosby addressed the pantheon of media:

On coming back:
It’s been a long time. I’m looking forward to it. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot over the last 10 months. I’m pretty excited.

On what he expects for tonight:
I’ve been working over the last couple months, but it’s been a while since I’ve played a game. I don’t really know what to expect. I try to give myself every chance to be ready the best I possibly can given the layoff here.

On feeling like it’s his first-ever game:
You don’t always get this anxious for games. This is one that I’m definitely pretty anxious and excited for. Nothing matches the first one, but it’s similar.

On getting back to his level of play:
It’s still a process of getting back and used to things. It’s not going to get any easier. It’s going to be an adjustment. Having that opportunity is something I’ve waited a long time for. I’m really exited and looking forward to getting going.

On taking contact in the game:
I feel pretty good. Anybody that has gone through this and missed this amount of time, you’ve got to get involved early and get that first hit under your belt. I may have to initiate a little more myself. Anybody that’s gone through this realizes there is a feeling out process to get back into. As far as my confidence level with getting hit, it’s all there. I feel confident going into those areas and getting contact.

On if teams will target him:
Before this teams keyed on me anyways. I don’t think that will change. I don’t expect anybody to try anything. I expect them to play hard like they always have.

On his contact in practice:
I’ve taken as much as I possibly can. Now it’s time for the real thing. I’m excited for that.

On how many minutes he’ll play:
No, I have no idea what to expect as far as how I feel and things like that. I’m sure that’s something that I’ll get a better feel for that. I feel like I’ve played 20 (minutes) already. I’ve never missed this amount of time. When I came back from my ankle I was expecting to play less and it doesn’t always happen. Usually by the time you get going and get into it you’re able to play more than you think. Hopefully, that’s the case.

On getting into a routine:
When you miss this amount of time you go over what usually seems pretty normal. You try to go over things and make sure you’re ready. Preparation-wise I’m just trying to make sure I’m ready to go. I feel like I’ve been preparing for more than just a couple weeks. I’m looking forward to it.

On what his return means for the NHL:
I’m just trying to enjoy being back. I’ve never been away from hockey this long. I’m just excited to be able to play again.

On getting back to his level from last season:
It’s hard to compare where you are without playing a game. I expect to be back there eventually. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I think the main thing is to get more and more comfortable each game. If I do that then I think I can get back there.

11:40 AM:
Pens coach Bylsma confirms that Michalek will be back in the lineup for the Pens tonight. #ZWatch is officially over!!!

Picard will sit for the Pens and the defensive pairs will be...

P.S. - Fleury starting in net.

10:55 AM:
Pens pics...

The legend of coach Bylsma's spectacular mustache grows with each passing day (left); The cameraman tries to shoot Vitale, but Crosby gets in the way #RuinedShot (right)

Staal falls asleep mid-conversation #rude (left); Pens players tap their sticks at center ice in honor of their captain's return (right)

Crosby flashes a smile and chats with GM Ray Shero. In all seriousness, how great is it to have Crosby back!?!? Life is just better with him around. And my cereal tasted better this morning just knowing he was coming back. #CapnCrunch (get it? cause the captain's back? do you get it?)

10:41 AM:
You can watch Michalek practice with a live video stream of practice here. Oh that Crosby fella is there too. 

10:35 AM:
Pens lines at the morning skate...

(MacIntyre, Vitale)

The 7 defensemen rotated.

10:31 AM:
All the Pens players are on the ice for the morning skate, including Michalek.

I don't know if you know this, but the guy above is kind of a big deal. He has many leather-bound books

10:15 AM:
The Pens are making their way onto the ice for the morning skate. Tons and tons of media here. Obviously they're here covering Michalek's injury progress. #ZWatch

10:00 AM:
Some notes from head coach Dan Bylsma's media chat yesterday on Crosby's return. He'll be playing alongside Kunitz and Dupuis, and his ice time will be monitored.

9:45 AM:
Good morning from CONSOL Energy Center! Tonight the Pens host the NY Islanders. But let's be honest, tonight is about more than just a hockey game.

It's about the return of the game's greatest superstar from a nearly 11-month absence. Ladies and gentlemen...

It's been a long road for Crosby to get back to action after suffering a concussion in early January. There have been a lot of ups and downs. It's a testament to Crosby's drive, determination, work ethic and passion that he has been able to battle through all the frustrations and adversity. The culmination of his sweat and perseverence will pay off when his blades cut the ice and the puck drops. 


Lots of options to open the day musically. There's LL Cool J's opening line to "Mama Said Knock You Out" when starts rapping "Don't call it a comeback! I've been here for years rocking my peers and puttin's suckas in fear." Or Jay Z's opening line on "Public Service Announcement." Imagine if Crosby steps on the ice and shouts: "Allow me to re-introduce myself. My name Sid! C-R to the Osby."

But instead we'll open with "Tonight, Tonight" by the Smashing Pumpkins (note: this IS NOT the Hot Chelle Rae song!!!) The Smashing Pumpkins magically capture the essence of the song's theme, blending the lyrics and sound to emphasize the epic-ness of the evening (fitting?). The symphony and drum rolls only add perfectly to build the drama.

And when I hear the song's closing lyrics, it's hard not to think of Sid's return:
"We'll make things right, we'll feel it all tonight
We'll find a way to offer up the night tonight
The indescribable moments of your life tonight
The impossible is possible tonight
Believe in me as I believe in you, tonight"

Welcome back Sid.

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