PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Sidney Crosby is finally cleared for contact during practice but that doesn’t mean the Pittsburgh Penguins are lining up to hit, bump or confront their star teammate.
Crosby went through his first full off-day practice Friday since his doctors agreed he is far enough along in his concussion recovery to face contact. But he didn’t come close to accepting anything resembling a game-type hit.
With the busy Penguins in the middle of a stretch in which they play nine games in 15 days to start the season, the practice was nearly contact-free.
“A few bumps here and there but nothing major,”said Crosby, who hasn’t been told when he can play again.
There also wasn’t any contact as Crosby participated in a pre-game skate Thursday, a few hours before the Penguins lost to the Washington Capitals 3-2 in overtime.
Practices typically don’t resemble games even when they are uncommonly physical, so Crosby understands the first real test of his post-concussion durability won’t occur until he resumes playing.
For now, going full speed in practice, skating on the No. 1 line and doing everything the rest of his teammates are doing is fine with him.
“I was a part of the power play and normal movement, that sort of thing,”Crosby said of Friday’s practice.“All that stuff takes timing and getting used to. It’s good to get that stuff, too.”
Crosby’s concussion affected his vestibular system, which controls a body’s stability, sense of balance and ability to move in crowded situations—or exactly what occurs in the NHL at very high speed.
Because Crosby had post-concussion symptoms for months after being injured the first week of January, he began functioning normally with bodies all around him for only a brief time before training camp began Sept. 17.
“The more comfortable you get, the more everything slows down for you,”Crosby said.“I’m starting to see everything a little bit better…the way that I see that or I respond to that is much different.
"Obviously it gave me some trouble at one point.”
Crosby still must fully regain his timing, shooting touch, game legs and ability to react at game speed. So he must do far more during practice than merely getting re-acquainted with hitting. Crosby hasn’t played in an NHL game since Jan. 5.
“It’s a progression thing,”Crosby said.“Even at this point it’s a lot better than it was. It can get better too, as far as my timing and seeing all those things.
"It’s just one of those things that takes time.”
Most of Crosby’s practice contact is likely to occur during power-play drills.
“We do battle,”defenceman Ben Lovejoy said.“At first I was tentative about it and I didn’t want to get him mad.
"I felt if he got mad at me, I’d be back at Wilkes-Barre (of the AHL).…We do battle in the corners and we slash each other and go hard.”
Hard enough that Crosby sometimes gets agitated.
“If I take a penalty against him in practice, whether it’s a slash or a trip, he turns around and complains to me and yells like I should be going to the penalty box,”Lovejoy said.“I think it’s good for both of us.”