Sidney Crosby jokes around in practice Sunday at Consol Energy Center.
Illustration by Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sidney Crosby is experiencing a bit of memory loss.
And that's good news. Very good news.
For Crosby. For the Penguins. For anyone who felt cheated when a guy many regard as the world's finest player was limited to 22 games the past two-plus years by a concussion, a neck injury and a labor dispute.
And, while Crosby remains keenly aware of all that went on during the lockout that shut down the NHL from mid-September until early January, he can't recall exactly when he last had to visit a specialist because of the concussion and neck injury that kept him in street clothes so often since the first week of 2011.
Can't remember when he experienced any symptoms associated with those medical issues, either. It has been that long.
Fact is, the biggest problem Crosby has had for months has been a lack of opportunities to play in games, and that will be remedied when the Penguins visit Philadelphia Saturday afternoon in their regular-season opener.
He didn't need the extra time off created by the lockout to complete his recovery, but being forced to tread water through fall and much of winter further stoked his competitive fires, which burn blue-hot even under usual circumstances.
Mentally, he seems as focused as he is motivated.
Physically, he is better than he has been since the night of Jan. 1, 2011, when then-Washington forward David Steckel drove a forearm into his head during the Winter Classic at Heinz Field. And, Crosby said recently, that's better than both times he returned to the lineup last season after extended absences.
"I'm much better, as far as just conditioning and everything," he said. "I haven't played a game, so I can't tell you that, but just my strength and speed and all that stuff, I feel a lot closer to where I need to be than I was last year.
"Last year, I thought I was kind of at that point when I came back, but, realistically, I probably wasn't. I needed some time to train and get used to all the things you're used to doing [when you're] skating every day and doing all that stuff. That year, year-and-a-half, it was tough to kind of keep everything together."
There still are occasions, he said, when he experiences things some might construe as aftershocks from his injuries but that actually are attributable to the rigors of playing the game for so many years.
And, of course, to his advanced age, now that he's all of 25.
"My neck probably gets a little stiffer, more than it did in the past, gets a little tighter," Crosby said. "But nothing besides that. I wouldn't say 'symptoms.'
"I think that's just part of bumps and bruises along the way. I'm sure my knees get more sore now than they did when I was 18 or 19, too. It's just stuff like that. Nothing, I can say, affects the way I play, or anything like that."
That no doubt pleases the medical professionals who oversaw his recovery from the concussion and neck injury, but likely will lead opposing coaches to experience some symptoms of their own.
Like migraines from trying to devise ways to neutralize Crosby if he's able to elevate his game to anything resembling the level he had reached when Steckel felled him. He had 32 goals and 33 assists in 39-plus games of the 2010-11 season when that happened and had been pretty much a prohibitive favorite to win the scoring championship and the league's MVP award.
Nothing, it seemed, could prevent any of that from happening.
Nothing except a season-ending concussion, as it turned out.
Crosby played about 19 minutes and earned an assist against Tampa Bay four days after the Capitals game, then sat nearly 11 months before rejoining the lineup.
But for all he went through during that time -- all the disappointments, all the frustrations, all the letdowns -- he never strayed from his desire to return.
Just as he has no plans to let the injuries that could have sabotaged his career change the way he goes about his job.
"You just have to go and play the same way and trust that you've done the [proper] things, taken the right amount of time to get better," he said.
"Thinking about it isn't going to change anything. You just have to go out there and play the same way and try to make sure you're doing everything you can to make sure it doesn't happen [again]."