The Penguins knew it was coming.
They could sense the impending return of their captain as he continued to work (and work and work) to progress in his recovery from a concussion that’s sidelined him from NHL game action since Jan. 5.
And now that the day of Crosby’s return has finally arrived, his teammates are excited and happy that he’s rejoined their lineup.
“I think you can’t put into words what it means,” winger Matt Cooke
said of Crosby’s comeback after a nearly 11-month absence. “I mean obviously, when you add the best player in the world back to the game, it’s a huge point. … It’s going to be fun to be a part of and I can’t wait to see him out there.”
Crosby, 24, has been practicing with the team since training camp opened in September. Ever since Day 1, Crosby has pushed himself to the limits to get back everything that makes him who he is – the best player in the world.
And while the Penguins knew they had to focus on the guys they had in the room entering each game, still – seeing that incredible skill set and collection of talents day in, day out at practices and morning skates made them hope Crosby’s return would be soon.
“I think everyone in the room would be lying if they said they weren’t wondering when Sid was going to come back,” defenseman Brooks Orpik
said. “I think he’s looked so good in practice for so long now. … I think everyone was definitely ready for it to happen.”
Center Jordan Staal
has some idea of what Crosby has been going through, as he missed the first half of the 2010-11 season due to injury. Tonight will mark just the third time in the last 103 regular-season games that Crosby, Staal and Evgeni Malkin
will be in the lineup at the same time.
“I think we’re all just really excited,” Staal said. “Obviously, no one wants to be injured and especially out for that long. I’ve been there, missing half a season. There’s definitely a lot of excitement. I think me watching him come back, I’m just really excited for him and happy.”
Throughout Crosby’s long rehabilitation process, one thing has stood out – the Penguins’ ability win hockey games without relying on their best player.
They’ve taken pride in how they’ve found ways to win hockey games, believing in themselves and each other and choosing to focus on the guys they have in that locker room instead of fixating on who they’ve missed.
With that being said, the Penguins don’t plan on changing the way they’ve played without Crosby in their lineup for the past 10-plus months. They believe that he’ll only enhance what’s become a strong, dangerous team with plenty of chemistry.
“Like I keep saying Sid is a piece of the puzzle, probably the biggest one if you ask around,” winger Pascal Dupuis
said. “He is a piece of the puzzle but we do all play as a team and we all dedicate ourselves to the system. He's one of those guys that does it with more talent, with more awareness on the ice. He does everything the right way.”