Sidney Crosby has heard the speculation.
Couldn't have missed it if he had tried, really.
That's because for the past few weeks, it has seemed as if every Penguins partisan with vocal cords and/or a keyboard -- for that matter, almost everyone with even a passing interest in the NHL -- has been pointing to a game Friday night against the Dallas Stars at Consol Energy Center as the likely time for Crosby to return from the concussion that has prevented him from playing since Jan. 5.
And truth be told, that date makes sense, at least on some levels.
- Game: Stars vs. Penguins.
- When: 7 p.m. Friday.
- Where: Consol Energy Center.
- TV: Root Sports.
After all, playing 13 games in the first 24 days of the season had left the Penguins with little time for full-fledged practices. That meant that even after Crosby got medical clearance to be hit, there weren't many drills during which he could absorb contact.
But once the Penguins emerged from that early season grind, they entered a lull -- one they're in at the moment -- during which they had just two games in 12 days.
Even though playing those entailed traveling to San Jose and Los Angeles, coach Dan Bylsma and his staff finally had a chance to run some conventional workouts, and thus help Crosby and the medical team handling his case get a better feel for where his recovery stands.
All of that appears to be going pretty much as planned.
Even so, Crosby continues to insist that he doesn't know whether he'll be able to dress for the Dallas game. He wouldn't rule it out Monday after practice at Southpointe, but certainly didn't advise Bylsma to clear a spot for him in the lineup, either.
"I guess [people who anticipate a Friday return] know more than I do, because I haven't really thought about it," Crosby said.
"I've thought more about just getting through this week. [Returning then] is a possibility, just like the other however many games are left there are.
"I'd love it to be Friday. I'd have loved for it to be on the [just-concluded] West Coast trip, but I didn't play there. There are a lot of different guesses. Everyone else's guess is as good as mine."
While there's no indication a decision on whether Crosby will play against the Stars has been finalized, one team official, in casual conversation, expressed skepticism about him returning then.
Bylsma did not predict when Crosby will return, and was adamant that the team has not targeted a date for getting him back.
"We are not waiting for an epiphany to make a decision," Bylsma said. "He's progressing, and he's going down that road. ... There is not a timetable. There is not a date right now [for Crosby to resume playing] that we know that you don't."
Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion Jan. 6, after taking two hard blows to the head in a span of five days.
The first of those came Jan. 1, which can be represented as 1/1/11. If he were to return Friday, the date would be 11/11/11. Crosby admits to being extremely superstitious, but said that numerical symmetry wouldn't have an impact on when he returns.
"I'm superstitious, but I wouldn't let that affect whether I came back that night or not," he said. "When I'm ready, I'll be back as soon as I can, no matter what the date is."
Crosby and his teammates won't be back on the ice until Wednesday, because they are in the midst of a two-day team-building/bonding outing at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.
He certainly appeared to be game-ready during the up-tempo practice Monday -- "I thought he looked pretty good out there," Bylsma said -- but Crosby has looked like he'd be capable of stepping into the lineup almost from the moment he resumed skating with his teammates.
However, the issue never has been whether having him back in the lineup would be a plus, from a hockey standpoint. It's whether he's recovered enough to be able to minimize the danger of suffering another head injury once he resumes playing.
The decision on when he can play ultimately will be made by Dr. Michael Collins, a concussion specialist, and Dr. Charles Burke, the Penguins team physician. Crosby flew home early from California to meet with them so that he would not have to miss any of the Nemacolin trip.
"I just tell them how I feel," Crosby said. "That's usually how it goes, give them feedback. They usually have tests, or ways of evaluating. They use that, too."
And at least for now, there's no indication all that data add up to Crosby being back in uniform Friday.
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @molinaripg. First Published November 8, 2011 5:00 AM