Crosby shakes off 'rust' in easy Penguins victory
Sidney Crosby celebrates after scoring in the first period against the Islanders Monday at Consol Energy Center.
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Understand that it will take a little time.
Sidney Crosby hadn't played in a game in nearly 11 months until Monday night, so it's inevitable that he'll need a little time to scrape the rust off his game.
Until then, people will just have to settle for the kind of performance he turned in during the Penguins' 5-0 victory against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center.
And all things considered, though, it really wasn't all that bad.
Not for a guy who hadn't pulled on a uniform since Jan. 5.
OK, and for anyone else who ever has laced up a pair of skates, too.
Crosby made it clear with two goals and two assists Monday night that he isn't just back from a concussion. He's BACK.
"I've been waiting a long time to have this chance to go out there," he said. "I wanted to make sure I gave it my best effort."
Yeah, well, it worked. And while it remains to be seen whether Crosby is better than ever, there's not much question that he's pretty darned good.
"Some of the plays, the way he played ... there's a lot of things that were special," coach Dan Bylsma said.
Most of what Crosby did was, actually, but that doesn't mean his performance can't be upgraded.
After all, he did score on just two of his eight shots. And he did lose seven of his 21 faceoffs. And there actually were a few shifts when he didn't score a goal, or even set one up.
Plenty of room for improvement, clearly.
OK, that's an extreme exaggeration, but what has to concern opposing teams is that Crosby actually might be able to elevate his game once he gets back into the rhythm of playing.
"He's going to get even better," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "That's the scary thing."
Whether Crosby can play better can be debated. That he'll play more in the future is a given.
After logging 7 minutes, 10 seconds of ice time in the opening period, Crosby played just 10 minutes, 35 seconds the rest of the way.
"I'm going to have to get ready to play a little more than that," he said.
While Crosby's first appearance in a game since Jan. 5 got all of the attention, Michalek had a pretty solid return of his own after missing 10 games because of a broken finger. He played 19:51 and had an assist and a blocked shot.
"Considering all things, I felt pretty good," he said.
It also went largely unnoticed that Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury rejected all 29 shots the Islanders threw at him to record his 21st career shutout. While he wasn't severely tested, Fleury did come through with a few quality stops, like when he gloved a blur from inside the left circle by Michael Grabner in the third period.
Of course, the outcome had pretty well been decided by then, largely through the efforts of Crosby.
He had two points -- a goal and an assist -- in the first period and came within a few inches of getting four because setups for Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin produced shots that hit the crossbar and right post.
Crosby gave the Penguins the only goal they would need at 5:24 of the first period, when he carried the puck around Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald, then threw a backhander over the glove of goalie Anders Nilsson from the inner edge of the right circle.
The crowd reaction likely had seismographs in far-away places shaking.
Not simply recording vibrations.
That goal came on his third shift, and the decibel level inside Consol Energy Center was so high that you not only could feel the noise, you practically could see it.
Crosby continued to be a factor every time he went over the boards and, at 16:29, set up the second goal when he fed the puck to defenseman Brooks Orpik, who drove a slap shot past Nilsson from just inside the blue line.
He added an assist on a Malkin goal at 3:17 of the second and, after Steve Sullivan steered in a Malkin pass at 5:52, closed out the scoring on a backhander from the right-wing boards.
That goal delighted the crowd -- again -- but Crosby's biggest thrill had come much earlier.
"The goals and assists were great, obviously," he said. "But just being back out there, I can't really describe it. The main thing was just the joy of playing. That's something I've missed for the last 10 months."
Crosby won't miss it anymore. He's back.
First Published November 22, 2011 12:00 am