Overshadowed by the ovations and relief when Sidney Crosby returned to the Penguins lineup Nov. 21 was a touch of the cringe factor.
There was a thought that the center, team captain and face of the National Hockey League was taking a risk by playing, even though it had been nearly 11 months since he was diagnosed with a concussion and he had gone through several painstaking steps to be cleared medically.
Posts on social media urged the Penguins to shut down Mr. Crosby for the full season. Talk show callers wondered if a leveling hit might end his career.
Not Mr. Crosby.
Even Monday, as he sat at his locker stall at Consol Energy Center explaining that concussion-like symptoms have resurfaced and forced him back out of the lineup indefinitely, Mr. Crosby was resolute that he had returned with no trepidation.
"No," he said. "I wasn't thinking about it. That's the honest truth.
"I came back feeling comfortable and ready to accept whatever came with playing hockey. I wasn't expecting [a setback], no."
It's not clear when Mr. Crosby, 24, got hurt in his most recent game Dec. 5 against Boston. His best guess is an early tussle for the puck with the Bruins' David Krejci in front of the Penguins bench.
"I know I got hit in the head there, but I felt like I was pretty good after that," he said. "I didn't feel like it was anything too major. But if I had to look at one hit, that [would be the one]."
It was announced on Wednesday that, as a precaution, Mr. Crosby would not accompany the team to road games Thursday at Philadelphia and Saturday on Long Island. He passed an ImPACT neurocognitive test, which was compared to his baseline test, but he didn't feel well and had symptoms, including headaches, through the weekend and Monday.
For now, Mr. Crosby is limited to light workouts. He did not participate in the team's practice Monday.
"It is frustrating for Sid," Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said. "Sid knows his body better than anybody else. He's not feeling 100 percent. He'll return to practice and playing when he is 100 percent."
Mr. Crosby would consider that an understatement.
"I don't think 'frustrating' even describes it," he said. "It's not fun watching [games]. But at the same time, I look at my ImPACT and I look at some of that stuff and I'm way better off than I was dealing with that stuff" in January.
Mr. Crosby took hits to the head in successive games Jan. 1 and Jan. 5 and was diagnosed with a concussion Jan. 6. He then launched into months of ebbs and flows in his recovery -- light exercises in late January, skating on his own and then practicing in March, a relapse of symptoms in April, a summer of good days and bad, back to practice when training camp began in September and clearance for hitting in practice in October.
He maintains an educated optimism this time about his recovery period.
"I'm not happy ... to be dealing with this, but I've got a pretty good idea of things now, and know that this is not where I was before," Mr. Crosby said. "That's encouraging."
The Penguins will play their third game in a row without him tonight when the Detroit Red Wings visit Consol Energy Center. Mr. Crosby had two goals, 12 points in eight games in his two-week comeback.
The team has been plagued by injuries -- including concussions to eight players over the past 12 months -- yet is still among the top teams in the NHL with 38 points through 30 games.
"It's frustrating for us," Penguins forward Craig Adams said, "but it's nothing for us compared to what Sid's dealing with and some of the other guys are dealing with. I just mostly feel badly for him.
"We're going to keep on trucking the way we have the last year or so. I just hope for him that he starts to feel better soon."
The Penguins are 35-20-8 in the 63 games Mr. Crosby has missed since Jan. 6. Continuing to play at that level is a reasonable expectation, Mr. Adams said.
"We're all professionals," he said. "I don't think we're going to get into a situation where we're feeling sorry for ourselves. We've got a great team. We're taken care of and spoiled and all those things.
"There's nobody here feeling sorry for themselves. We know that this organization will do and does everything [it] can to put us in position to win. We've got more than enough horses in here to win games."
Still, the absence of Mr. Crosby -- a former NHL scoring champion, goal champion and most valuable player and Olympics star -- leaves a massive hole in the lineup.
The Penguins were 5-2-1 in Mr. Crosby's short comeback. He is a dynamic player who was leading the NHL with 66 points in 41 games when he got hurt last winter. He is also one of the most driven players, making this setback all the tougher to take.
Teammate Zbynek Michalek gets that. The defenseman is one of three other Penguins who have a concussion, his first. The others are defensemen Kris Letang and Robert Bortuzzo.
"You see so many head injuries in the league," Mr. Michalek said. "Now I understand -- it's not easy to go through.
"For him to have it so long, it must have been so hard on him. It's not easy. I hope he gets better."
There is no designation for Mr. Crosby's status. His ImPACT test did not reveal a concussion, but Mr. Letang and Mr. Michalek are out because of concussions that also were not detected by ImPACT tests.
Post-concussion syndrome? Mr. Crosby doesn't know. He just considers himself to be symptomatic, and that means waiting until he feels better and wading through the steps to come back.
"It's that whole routine again," he said. "But, hopefully, not as long."
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: email@example.com , 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly