Crosby's return only a start

Crosby had jump after layoff

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Better results are ahead -- have to be ahead -- perhaps as soon as the Penguins' home game Sunday afternoon against the New York Rangers. Sidney Crosby will score a goal or set up one of his new linemates, Marian Hossa or Pascal Dupuis. Or he'll work magic on a power play that has out-of-this-world potential. Would you believe Evgeni Malkin with Hossa and Ryan Malone up front with Crosby and Sergei Gonchar on the points?

It didn't happen for Crosby or his linemates last night, but that hardly mattered. What was important for the Penguins in their 3-1 win against the New York Islanders was that Crosby had plenty of jump, had scoring chances galore and -- this is really significant -- made it through the game OK.

Bad ankle? What bad ankle?

"No issues," Crosby said afterward. "It feels a lot stronger than it did when I first came back. You never know about this type of injury, but I don't think I can feel more confident about it than I do now."

Is that a beautiful song or what?

Today will be a big test, of course. Crosby was optimistic he'll wake up with little or no pain or swelling in his right ankle, certainly not enough to keep him out of the game against the Rangers.

Another test will come Monday night when the Penguins complete a home-and-home, back-to-back series with the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. That will be a nice preview of what Crosby hopes will be a long, grueling playoff run.

But make no mistake: Last night was a good first step.

It was great to see Crosby back on Mellon Arena ice for the first time since his high ankle sprain Jan. 18. He missed 21 games, then played three, all on the road. He sat out the seven games before last night to quiet things in the ankle after it acted up.

It was even better to see Crosby flying up and down the ice. He fairly blew by Islanders defenseman Radek Martinek down the right wing just eight-plus minutes into the game. That goaltender Wade Dubielewicz stopped his backhander didn't seem important. Crosby's wheels were all that counted.

Sure, there was rust. Crosby couldn't handle a couple of bouncing pucks, once midway through the first period that denied him a breakaway after a gorgeous pass from Malone, then early in the second period after he put a spectacular move on defenseman Freddy Meyer by lifting the puck by him. On that second play, after Crosby couldn't get a clean backhanded shot on goal, he tried unsuccessfully to shoot through his legs.

Two weeks from now, Crosby probably scores on those plays.

Two weeks from now would be just fine because, you know, that's playoff time.

As for Crosby fitting in with Dupuis and Hossa, whom he was playing with for the first time since Hossa joined the Penguins at the trade deadline? It didn't take long. On their second shift, Hossa and Crosby ran a nice give-and-go only to see Hossa stopped by Dubielewicz.

The Crosby line didn't have a point, but circumstances contributed to both. For one thing, the Arena ice was awful, "worse than usual," Crosby said. It didn't help that the Penguins took four penalties in the second period, limiting the Crosby line's ice time. Hossa also had to leave the game twice, once for two minutes in the second period after a hip check from defenseman Rob Davison put him on his back side, then for the night early in the third period after an elbow or forearm to the back of the head from winger Sean Bergenheim.

It can't be that the hockey gods don't want Crosby and Hossa to play together, can it?

The hockey gods couldn't be that cruel.

Crosby and Hossa showed enough to make you think big things are coming, as long as Hossa is OK.

Certainly, there won't be too many nights when that sublime power play goes 0 for 5, as it did against the Islanders.

"We had a lot of chances," Crosby said. "Some great looks, some great opportunities. If we get those looks consistently..."

Magic, perhaps.

Pure magic.

Give the Penguins credit for holding their own without Crosby, going 16-8-4 in the games he missed.

But don't think for a second that they won't be a better team with him.

Last night was only the beginning.

Ron Cook can be reached at . First Published March 28, 2008 4:00 AM


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