PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Yes, that was Sidney Crosby shooting pucks, skating hard from end to end and going through a full practice.
No, it's not time yet for Pittsburgh Penguins fans to start getting excited.
Still missing is an all-clear sign for hockey’s long-absent star to begin getting hit again, even if it's only in practice. A target date for Crosby's next comeback also remains indefinite, just as it has since early December.
Crosby, limited for weeks to on-ice work with other injured players, practised with his teammates Thursday at the Penguins’suburban practice rink, only the third time he's skated with them since he last played on Dec. 5.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma cautioned that Crosby's status hasn't changed, even if this was his most extensive on-ice work in weeks.
"A chance to get on the ice with some more players," Bylsma said Thursday. "He was out there with our team for the entire practice, although he did not participate in the contact drills that we did have. We'll see how he progresses and where he’s at in terms of getting on the ice."
Concussion-related issued have limited Crosby to eight games over the last 14 months, a considerable stretch for the NHL to be without its showcase star.
Lately, Crosby has worked out on a near daily basis with conditioning coach Mike Kadar and any other sidelined players in advance of practice. On Thursday, however, Crosby chose to skate with the full team, even though forward Tyler Kennedy (high ankle sprain) was available to work out with in advance of practice.
Bylsma wouldn't say if this means Crosby is getting closer to being cleared for full participation in practice, a necessary step before he can play in NHL games again.
"Sometimes it (Crosby's routine) is dictated on if it's an optional (practice) or how many people will be out there," Bylsma said.
While the Penguins (34-21-5) have only 22 remaining regular-season games, they are hopeful their sidelined superstar can return at some point.
But as the season winds down and Crosby remains out—he now hasn't played for nearly three months—the Penguins still have no realistic idea when he will be ready. Crosby won't even begin to guess when it might happen, and neither will anyone associated with the team.
The uncertainly might be affecting what general manager Ray Shero wants to do in advance of Monday’s trading deadline.
If Crosby was playing, Shero almost certainly would be looking to add a forward capable of playing alongside his team captain.
But with no comeback date in sight, it might not be prudent for the Penguins to rent a player for a role that might not need filling. Shero, usually among the most active GMs at the deadline, has given no indication what his priority is.
Since taking over as the Penguins general manager in 2006, Shero has added forwards such as Marian Hossa, James Neal, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin, Gary Roberts and Alexei Ponikarovsky at or near the deadline. Neal, Dupuis and Kunitz remain with the team.
But, for now, the Penguins are so crowded with forwards that they assigned Cal O'Reilly, recently picked up on waivers from Phoenix, to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) on Thursday. And centre Dustin Jeffrey, who filled in on the No. 2 line during Jordan Staal’s recent injury absence, was a healthy scratch for a 2-0 win over the Rangers on Tuesday.
The Penguins play back-to-back home games this weekend against Tampa Bay (Saturday) and Columbus (Sunday).