SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby smiled. He wiped sweat from his face. He spoke to a phalanx of cameras and microphones.
Most important, he skated Friday at BankAtlantic Center.
The occasion was his first time back on the ice since he had a recurrence of concussion symptoms in early December and his first interview in a month.
There are still some things that concern the Penguins captain and face of the NHL. Among them are a lingering problem handling motion, his disappointment in having to go through this recovery process again and his aversion to being a distraction for the club.
Much lower on his list is the social media swirl of vitriol being aimed at him.
After about 25 minutes skating and shooting pucks with Penguins conditioning coach Mike Kadar at he end of the game-day skate, Crosby said he "felt pretty good. It's nice to get back out there."
He is improving but not symptom-free. There are still headaches and some of the same vestibular system issues that prolonged his recovery after a Jan. 6, 2011, concussion diagnosis. He got relief over the summer when he went through gyroscope-like treatments with Ted Carrick, a chiropractor and concussion specialist in Georgia.
"That will be the real test -- the motion stuff has kind of been the issue for the time before and a bit now," Crosby said. "The good thing is I have a pretty good handle on it, and I was able to improve that. When I went to Atlanta, that was a big help in August, so I know I can handle that if I need to, if it comes to that."
He would rather the motion and balance problems go away without a return trip to Atlanta.
"Hopefully not, but the motion stuff is still a little bit iffy," he said. "I want to make sure that I give it a fair shot, but, at the same time, it's something I know I can improve in."
Crosby had been doing light off-ice workouts before getting the medical go-ahead to return to the ice.
"Obviously, there's some restraints," he said. "That being said, it's better than being on a [stationary] bike or sitting around."
His daily routine will be designed by his medical staff, and he might not skate every day, but, eventually, the goal is to get clearance to return to a full practice, then to have contact and then to get back in the lineup.
After missing nearly 11 months initially, Crosby returned for eight games, getting two goals and 10 assists.
A return of symptoms -- it's not known whether he had another concussion or is having problems related to his initial brain injury -- forced him off the ice again. He missed his 15th game in a row Friday night when the Penguins took a six-game losing streak into a game against the Florida Panthers.
"It's great to see him on the ice," winger James Neal said. "We know how much it kills him to not be out there, especially when we're going through a slump like this and not being able to win and he has to watch that. I can't imagine how tough it is for him."
Being out of the lineup isn't where Crosby wants to be, but, at least, this time he has an idea what to expect.
"It's different," he said. "I think at different points [before], what I was going through was so new and [there were] so many questions and not a lot of answers. This is kind of a tough injury. It's not clear-cut all the time.
"Now ... I know a lot more about what I'm feeling and how to improve it. I think being a little more familiar actually probably helps a bit. It's tough to come back and be out [again], but I think I've got a little better handle on it right now."
What he has little tolerance for is the spate of speculation surrounding his status -- everything from accusations that he could play but chooses not to, to calls for the Penguins to shut him down for the season or elect not to try to extend his contract when that becomes allowable July 1.
"It's tough to even answer it because it's so farfetched," Crosby said, adding that no one in the organization has questioned his situation.
"I would say to that I'm not surprised when we've lost six in a row. If we would have won five in a row, I don't think any of that stuff would have started. Let's be honest -- the Steelers are out, and the Penguins are what there is to be talked about. Anything that can be brought up or started, especially given the situation, it's a pretty easy fit. ... So, as long as guys don't get caught up in it -- and I don't think they have -- we're much better off not even listening to it."
His teammates chose not to let it rest. At their game-day skate, some 30 minutes before Crosby hit the ice, they all came out with a captain's "C" made of tape on their practice jerseys -- save for center Evgeni Malkin, who went with a Russian "K."
Crosby called that "a nice gesture."
His teammates strongly defended Crosby's place on the club.
"We have one captain, and he's here to stay," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "People that think or say otherwise, it's a joke, so we basically turned it into a joke [by fashioning the C's]."
Defenseman Brooks Orpik noted that the team is tight-knit enough to withstand speculation.
"I don't know how many of us, including Sid, all went to dinner [Thursday] night [in Florida]. Had a pretty good dinner," Orpik said. "All played basketball together [Thursday]. It's a pretty close group.
"Sid will be our captain until he's retired."
Crosby and the Penguins also have received criticism for infrequent updates on his status. He defended the policy, saying he wants attention on his teammates rather than on him when he's not playing and hasn't made noteworthy strides in recovery.
"First and foremost, that's the most important thing -- not being a distraction," Crosby said.
"I understand my responsibility. I think I've been doing this long enough to know that if there's information to give, that's part of my role and the responsibility that comes with what I do to provide that, and I've always been willing to do that. But I think if there's no information to be given, then I'm not going to give any. I'm not going to make something up."
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. First Published January 14, 2012 5:00 AM