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Triumphant Return

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

On the morning of his return to the lineup, Sidney Crosby was asked how long it will take him to reach his level of play from last season when he scored 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games (while also pulling off a 25-game, 50-point scoring streak) after a concussion forced him on a 320-day hiatus of NHL action.

He responded: “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.”

Of course, Crosby then went on to score his first goal just 5:24 minutes after the opening puck drop, part of his two goals, four points, plus-3 rating, 8 shots and 67-percent faceoff wins in 15:54 minutes of ice time as the Penguins defeated the New York Islanders, 5-0, at CONSOL Energy Center Monday night.

If Crosby expects to reach a higher level than tonight, then when he gets there the rest of the National Hockey League is in serious trouble.

“The goals and assists were great obviously, but just being back out there I can’t really even describe it,” Crosby said. “It was exciting. I was anxious. There were a lot of different things going through my mind. The main thing was to enjoy playing. That’s something that I’ve missed over the last 10 months.

“I’ll have a great memory of this one for a lot of different reasons. That was a pretty fun one to be a part of.”

And his teammates aren’t the only ones that are glad to have Crosby’s talents back in the lineup. From the moment Crosby’s skate blade touched the ice for warmup until he finally exited the ice, the sold out crowd of 18,571 at CONSOL Energy Center were boisterous and supportive with deafening cheers and chants.

“I expected people to be loud, but that was far beyond what I expected,” he said. “It was pretty amazing and pretty special. I looked forward to this game, starting at home was extra special. (Pens fans are) the reason for that. It was an unbelievable ovation and I appreciated all of that. It’s a special thing that I’ll always remember for sure.”

Crosby, always a signature performer on a big stage, gave the crowd plenty to cheer about. It would only take him 2:20 minutes of ice time before he would bring the crowd to its feet.

Crosby took a pass at center ice with speed. He blew past two Islanders then lifted a backhander into the air over the shoulder of netminder Andres Nilsson and into the net for his first goal of the year.

“On the goal, I saw, at least for a few seconds, that they were flat footed on the blue line,” Crosby said. “I just tried to get up in the play. I was able to get some good speed built up when I got it. I knew I had a chance to go wide and wanted to get a good shot away. That’s basically what I saw.

The goals and assists were great obviously, but just being back out there I can’t really even describe it. ... I’ll have a great memory of this one for a lot of different reasons. That was a pretty fun one to be a part of. - Penguins captain Sidney Crosby
“Part of waiting to play is that you’re also waiting to get that first one. It came pretty early, which was nice.”

Crosby had a little chuckle on the bench after watching a replay of the goal on the big screen and seeing his own cathartic reaction.

“I was watching the replay and reading my lips,” Crosby said with a grin. “Hopefully, everyone wasn’t reading lips at home. It was pretty exciting. I couldn’t hold that in.”

Crosby set up goals by Brooks Orpik and Evgeni Malkin before scoring his second of the game early in the third period. He was carrying the puck and winning puck battles along the boards in the offensive zone. From the bottom of the near circle he snapped a tough-angled backhander toward the goal that found its way into the net.

While Crosby wasn’t on the receiving end of any crushing blows, he did take a few heavy hits from Milan Jurcina and Travis Hamonic, one of which sent him flying to the ice.

“I was mad at myself for putting myself in that position,” he said. “I was flat footed and standing up straight, a pretty easy target there. Once you get on the bench and realize everything is good, that’s always a good feeling. I was glad I got that over with too early on.”

And the more hits Crosby can absorb in these first few games and still feel healthy will only ease any lingering concerns for his condition.

“There will be more hits, and probably harder ones,” he said. “To come out of that OK gives you some reassurance. I don’t think I needed it, but it’s good in this process to get a couple of those out of the way early.”

After that Crosby was able to concentrate on what he does best…dominate. Mission accomplished.

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