Sidney Crosby, in full head-gear, Friday at the Southpointe Iceoplex during his first team practice since his jaw injury in March.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma knows he will get Sidney Crosby back in his lineup.
There's no way of knowing precisely when that will happen, though, so Bylsma seems to be preparing for all of the possibilities.
That explains why, when Crosby practiced with his teammates Friday for the first time since having his jaw broken by a deflected shot March 30, he skated between Beau Bennett and Dustin Jeffrey on the No. 5 line, but also got extensive work with the No. 1 power-play unit.
"We've practiced and been in games with different combinations, based on what could be the possibility if everyone is in the lineup, [or] if everyone's not in the lineup," Bylsma said.
Crosby won't be back in uniform until the medical professionals overseeing his recovery give him clearance. That apparently won't come until next week, at the earliest, although it's not a message that will have to be delivered more than once.
"As soon as they say I can play," Crosby said, "I'll be there."
Crosby will sit out his 12th game in a row when the Penguins face Carolina in the regular-season finale tonight at Consol Energy Center. His status for the start of their opening-round playoff series -- Game 1 is expected to be Wednesday night -- has not been determined.
"There's not a timeline on Sid and his injury right now," Bylsma said.
He didn't offer one for a couple of other injured players, either, although defenseman Brooks Orpik and center Joe Vitale, both dealing with undisclosed injuries, also are expected to miss the Carolina game.
Vitale worked out on the ice Friday at Southpointe with conditioning coach Mike Kadar, but their session didn't generate nearly as much attention as the 45-minute practice in which Crosby was involved.
Crosby, who usually wears a visor, wore a clear plastic guard on the bottom of his helmet to protect his jaw from errant sticks and pucks. It seems to be doing that effectively, but it also has been an impediment when he's handling the puck, so Crosby won't rule out swapping it for some other protective gear.
"There's not really a ton of options," he said. "You're definitely trying to find something that's going to protect you. But, at the same time, you want to be able to see the puck and that kind of thing. That might change, depending on if I find something else."
Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, Crosby's usual linemates before he was injured, might be hoping he doesn't discard it, since both brought it up when discussing him.
Kunitz said after practice that Crosby "was the guy wearing all that plastic," while Dupuis invoked the name of a junior-hockey phenom while describing Crosby's appearance.
"I didn't recognize him," Dupuis said. "He looked like that Connor McDavid, with the full cage on."
What likely matters most, though, is that Crosby looked a lot like, well, Crosby during the workout.
"He has another level that nobody else can ever get to," Kunitz said. "He makes it a lot of fun, even in practice, watching him score some goals. It's fun just having him back out there."
Crosby didn't look like someone who hadn't practiced or played in nearly a month, but it's worth noting that he wasn't subjected to any physical punishment.
That certainly will not be the case when he resumes playing. If anything, opposing players are likely to target his jaw for contact at every opportunity.
"I realize that," Crosby said. "I'll do my best to not put myself in that position [to be hit], but it is going to happen. That's the playoffs, that's how it goes. I fully expect that. I'm OK with that."
Crosby underwent another round of extensive dental work Thursday -- "A couple of root canals," he said. "It wasn't a big deal at all" -- and has more of that in his future, because several of his lower right teeth have yet to be replaced.
Although the pain associated with his injury is difficult to imagine, Crosby seems to be managing it well, even when he's on the ice.
"I can tell there's something wrong there, but I don't think it's anything that's been too painful," he said. "At least the last week or so, it's been pretty good."
And it probably will feel better when the doctors give him the clearance he craves. "There's nothing else," Crosby said. "That's what I'm waiting on."