Crosby dazzling in return to ice
Center Sidney Crosby celebrates his second goal of the game Monday at the Consol Energy Center. The Penguins went on to beat the New York Islanders, 5-0.
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The idea to pass out "Welcome back SID" signs Monday night to the sellout crowd at Consol Energy Center came from Penguins owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux.
The notion that spontaneous reaction to the return of star center Sidney Crosby trumped club-produced pageantry came from other team executives.
The thought that Mr. Crosby is the Ferrari of hockey players came from UPMC concussion specialist Micky Collins.
But the flair for the dramatic, the ability to richly reward those who patiently -- or impatiently -- had awaited the return of the face of the National Hockey League, that was pure Crosby.
After months of dealing with the effects of a concussion, then weeks of working himself into shape through practices and awaiting medical clearance to play, Mr. Crosby brought the crowd of 18,571 to its feet again and again in a 5-0 victory against the New York Islanders.
Mr. Crosby, 24, scored the first goal of the game and finished with two goals and two assists to earn the designation of the game's first star.
In other words, his performance was what you might expect of a superstar who has helped the Penguins win a Stanley Cup, won an NHL scoring title and MVP award, and scored the winning overtime goal to give Canada an Olympic gold medal.
"I don't really have good words for it," coach Dan Bylsma said. "That was special in a lot of ways.
"Just how dynamic he was in this game, it was a pleasure to be behind the bench watching that."
For Mr. Crosby, it was sheer kid-in-a-candy-store stuff.
"I can't really even describe it," he said. "It was exciting. I was anxious. A lot of different things going through my mind.
"But the main thing was just the joy of playing. That's something I've missed over the last 10 months."
Beforehand, the game was being likened to Dec. 27, 2000, when Mr. Lemieux came out of retirement. In that game, Mr. Lemieux had a goal and two assists. That game also was a 5-0 Penguins victory, against Toronto.
"That's a great memory, and, for me I'll obviously have a great memory of this one," Mr. Crosby said.
Mr. Crosby outdid Mr. Lemieux, at least in terms of points in the game.
The pregame Monday was more understated.
For Mr. Lemieux, there was a ceremony to lower his retired No. 66 and other festivities.
For Mr. Crosby, there were a couple of simple highlight videos.
After all, what more did fans need than to see No. 87 back on the ice?
For the pregame warm-up, for Mr. Crosby's entry onto the ice before the game and when he was announced as one of the starting six, the roar was deafening, the signs dancing.
"There's that moment," Penguins vice president of communications Tom McMillan said. "They don't happen often. It's this electric moment that's a feel more than anything else."
That's what the club wanted the crowd to soak in.
"You don't want to trample the magic of the event by doing too much," Mr. McMillan said. "It happens organically."
So did Mr. Crosby's points.
He didn't make fans wait long to see his first goal, as he opened the scoring 5:24 into the first period.
Mr. Crosby was behind his net when teammate Deryk Engelland got the puck near the right corner. Mr. Crosby took off down the middle of the ice.
Mr. Engelland sent the puck ahead to Pascal Dupuis along the boards in front of the Penguins bench. He sent a soft pass that got to Mr. Crosby in stride. He broke across the blue line, got around New York defenseman Andrew MacDonald on his way down the right edge of the slot and beat rookie goaltender Anders Nilsson with a backhander.
Emotion, relief, celebration caught up with Mr. Crosby. He pumped both of his fists and let out an R-rated yell as he glided around the end boards and met his teammates for a hug.
"I was watching the replay [from the Penguins bench] and read my lips," he said. "Hopefully, everybody wasn't reading lips at home. It was pretty exciting. I couldn't hold that in."
After that, Mr. Crosby set up Brooks Orpik on a goal, helped set up a power-play goal by Evgeni Malkin and topped off the night with a backhanded shot that hit Islanders defenseman Steve Staios and fluttered past Mr. Nilsson for his second goal.
The game was a hot ticket.
It already was slated to be the Penguins' 219th consecutive sellout, but once word broke Sunday afternoon that this would be the game Mr. Crosby returned, ticket resale prices began rising.
Chris Matcovich of TiqIQ said the average price of a seat sold through that ticker broker was $274.35 one hour before faceoff. Around the time that Mr. Crosby's return was announced, it was $150.
About 90 minutes before the game, a scalper who identified himself only as John said $100 tickets were fetching $175 to $200.
He also noted that "this has been the biggest thing for us since Mario came back."
The same might be said of the news value for this regular-season game.
Networks scrambled to pick up the game -- Versus in the United States, CBC in Canada, even Viasat Hockey in Sweden.
The Penguins issued 251 media credentials, about four times the typical amount, Mr. McMillan said, and something the team usually would expect if the team reached the Eastern Conference final of the playoffs.
That media crush made for a crowded Penguins locker room after the morning skate. Mr. Crosby sat at his locker stall and entertained questions from two large groups of reporters.
Mr. Crosby was playing at a phenomenal level when he got hurt and was leading the NHL with 66 points in 41 games. Asked to predict what kind of game he would have compared to that level of play, he was cautious.
"I don't know at what level, but as far as what I need to do out there, creating things, I expect a lot and I've been working hard the last couple of months to make sure that when it was time to come back, I'm ready," he said.
"Do I expect to be where I was in January last year? Probably not. But I expect to, hopefully, contribute."
Mission accomplished. And then some.
First Published November 22, 2011 12:00 am