Sidney Crosby was back on the ice Wednesday morning at Consol Energy Center, the strongest possible evidence that he'd made it through a workout that included contact -- his first in more than three months -- the previous day without suffering a setback.
That doesn't mean Crosby is ready to announce when he plans to return to the lineup yet, but it's another hurdle cleared on his way to getting back in uniform.
"You try not to think about things too much," Crosby said. "You never know how long the process is going to be, so you don't want to think too far ahead."
Such caution is understandable, although his coach, Dan Bylsma, acknowledged that he has spent a little time pondering precisely where Crosby will fit in once he returns.
"I think it's natural to have thought long before [Tuesday] who would play [with Crosby], where he would play, what line he would play on," Bylsma said. "I've certainly given a lot of thought to that.
"I've had conversations with Sidney about that, as well. When we have a time where he's going to be [closer to participating in games], we'll have a better idea, or you'll see what that might be."
Bylsma did not identify Crosby's potential linemates, but did not sound as if he's interested by breaking up the Chris Kunitz-Evgeni Malkin-James Neal line.
"Kunitz and Malkin and Neal have played spectacular and been possibly the best line in hockey for two months, 2 1/2 months," he said.
Crosby, being treated for a soft-tissue neck injury and concussion-like symptoms, missed his 38th consecutive game when Toronto visited Wednesday night.
Injured defensemen Kris Letang and Deryk Engelland sat out the Maple Leafs game, which allowed Brian Strait to dress for his third NHL game.
He was recalled from the Penguins American Hockey League team in Wilkes-Barre Monday, and recorded four hits and four blocked shots in the 2-1 victory against Phoenix that night, despite getting just 12 minutes, 19 seconds of ice time.
"Those are the things they count on me to do," he said. "Whether it's 12 minutes or 20 minutes, I have to try to do those as much as possible."
Strait was a logical choice to be brought up because the Penguins were looking to replace Engelland, who also has a defense-oriented style.
"I'm not a guy who's a particularly offensive defenseman," Strait said. "I have a role and I have my foundations that I have to stick to. Blocked shots, hits and playing guys hard.
"That's different [than the job description for] a lot of other guys. If I do that, I bring a different element than some other guys."
He stopped far short, however, of suggesting that he could make Engelland's absence go unnoticed.
"He's an awesome defenseman," Strait said. "They're some tough shoes to fill. He's a physical guy and he's a good shutdown defenseman. I can only hope I can do half the stuff he does."
Most of the Maple Leafs still are trying to get a feel for Randy Carlyle, who succeeded Ron Wilson as coach Friday. They don't know him nearly as well as Kunitz, who played for Carlyle in Anaheim.
"He's demanding, in the sense that there's a structure he wants to play and the success happens when you play those ways," Kunitz said. "He's going to show them what worked for him in the past, and those players are going to play that system. He's also a coach who expects you to be able to do your job. He doesn't give you any leeway on that."
Crosby, on the limited contact he got during the game-day skate: "[There] was not much going on. The days in between games, I'll try to make the most of those and get some contact and try to push myself there and see how I feel." ... Toronto played without high-scoring winger Joffrey Lupul, who got a separated shoulder against Boston Tuesday night, and blue-collar winger Colby Armstrong, who got a broken nose in a fight with Dennis Seidenberg.