Asked about the amount of contact he has had in practice the past few weeks, Sidney Crosby smiled.
"Uh, three hits?" he said, then laughed.
At least the Penguins captain is keeping his spirits up as he continues to work his way back from a concussion that has kept him out of games since Jan. 5.
After yet another practice with no real hitting Monday at Southpointe, Crosby ruled himself out of the team's upcoming West Coast games, Thursday at San Jose and Saturday at Los Angeles.
He said he needs to practice more consistently and get hit more. That has been difficult because of the Penguins' hectic schedule, but opportunities would seem to be here finally.
Practice Monday featured more flow drills and other non-contact activities, but that could change starting today. The team has three days in a row of practice this week. Next week, the team is off Sunday through Thursday, plenty of time for more grueling sessions.
"[Monday] was speed and pace, getting up and down the ice, a little bit of conditioning," coach Dan Bylsma said.
"We've looked at this week and, particularly, next week. We'll get some time to work on some detail and some habits in our game."
Crosby said his conditioning is as good as it can get without playing in a game.
As for contact, he said he has to experience some days of that in something akin to game situations. Simply assigning someone to exchange hits with him wouldn't be the same.
"Sometimes you're fighting for pucks, battling in corners. You get hit sometimes when you don't expect it," Crosby said of game settings. "All that stuff is much different than being prepared [by being] in a one-on-one battle."
Although there has been some educated guessing that Crosby might play Nov. 11 at home against Dallas, he said he's not ready to set a date for his return.
"It's not just an automatic thing," he said. "To go through hitting is a big step. I just want to make sure I get through that well. That's the most important thing, however long that takes.
"I just want to make sure that it goes well and give myself the best chance to make sure that I handle it."
Center Jordan Staal was one of five players not on injured reserve who did not practice. He missed a game Saturday at Toronto because of an unspecified left leg injury he got Thursday in a collision with John Tavares of the New York Islanders.
Bylsma said Staal skated separately before practice.
"He's still day to day," Bylsma said. "It seems like he probably will be fine going forward, but we'll how that works out later in the week."
Forwards Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and Matt Cooke and defenseman Kris Letang also didn't practice. Bylsma said they were given "maintenance days."
Malkin has been sitting out practices but has played the past three games. He previously missed seven games because of soreness in his surgically repaired right knee.
Penguins right winger Tyler Kennedy, who has missed the past seven games because of a concussion, has not been cleared for practice but was at Southpointe.
He went onto the ice by himself for a few minutes, in shoes rather than skates, and shot the puck.
While Kennedy is not experiencing the type of debilitating side effects that confine some to a dark, quiet room, he is not clear of symptoms.
"Some of the various symptoms for a concussion, he's had," Bylsma said. "He has to be symptom-free before he moves forward. Those symptoms sometimes are different each day. Sometimes they're not there all day."
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: firstname.lastname@example.org , 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.