Crosby gets OK to take on contact

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Perhaps Sidney Crosby's biggest short-term concern will be finding a samaritan to rattle his teeth, and a time for that to happen.

"I might have to do something to get them to hit me," Crosby, smiling broadly, said Thursday of his Penguins teammates.

It was an upbeat day for the captain of the club. Crosby received clearance for full contact in practices, a highly anticipated late-stage step in his comeback from a concussion.

It comes with a problem, though. The Penguins schedule is cramped with 13 games in 24 days this opening month of the 2011-12 season. That means full-fledged practices with high-energy contract drills will be rare.

"It's pretty tough right now," Crosby said. "We're playing pretty much every second day or in back-to-back games. There's not a lot of practices with contact per se.

"I've got to get hit at some point during practice, but we're playing so much, it's pretty tough to get that now."

That makes it even more difficult to predict when Crosby will be deemed ready to play a game for the first time since he was diagnosed Jan. 6. He has been practicing with the team, sans contact, since Sept. 17, the first day the Penguins were on the ice for training camp.

"I'm not going to give you a timetable, not going to make one right now," coach Dan Bylsma said.

Bylsma added that it's a bonus that Crosby was able to go through a physically draining training camp, and that the Penguins might manufacture opportunities for him to hit and be hit on the ice.

Crosby, as usual, took part in a game-day morning skate. For the first time, he shed the alternate-colored helmet that had signified no contact. He skated on a regular forward line with wingers Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis and practiced a little with a regular power-play unit so that, Bylsma said, he could start to get a feel for a real practice.

There is little hitting in morning skates, though, so Crosby said the session wasn't much different from what he has already gone through.

At times over the past few weeks, Crosby has been inadvertently bumped or jostled and has plunged into traffic at practice. Now he will need to take bigger and more frequent hits because he surely will receive those in games in such a heavy-contact sport.

Crosby, 24, who was leading the NHL with 66 points in 41 games when he got hurt, said he is symptom-free. The medical team that cleared him for contact will monitor how he does under a regular dose of that contact.

"I think it's up to how I respond to getting hit," Crosby said.

He has noted that players coming off of injuries often are treated gingerly by teammates, but he doesn't want kid-gloves treatment. He's willing to be proactive.

"Maybe bump them a little bit," Crosby said.

It's not unusual for Crosby, a bull-strong player who battles ferociously for the puck and for space, to incite hitting at practice.

"He'll do something that will warrant that from a player. I don't think anyone has to worry about that," said Bylsma, who said by way of example that Crosby and defenseman Ben Lovejoy often engage in tough battles in special-teams drills.

That kind of thing could go on for a matter of days or weeks, even as the hockey world is eager for its brightest star to return.

"I love playing against him," said star winger Alex Ovechkin, in town with the Washington Capitals for a game Thursday at Consol Energy Center. "It's good for fans when people can see top players on the ice. Everybody wishes the best for him."

Crosby, however, has not had trouble staying patient.

"When you've waited this long, you just want to make sure you do everything right," he said. "It's exciting, if anything. I don't think it's hard to be patient at this point. I'm getting closer.

"I just want to make sure that I respond well to the next however-long-it-is."



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