PITTSBURGH — The news that sidelined Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby may have played with two damaged vertebrae in his neck caused a major stir during the NHL all-star weekend, but Penguins coach Dan Bylsma insisted his captain is not unhappy with the team’s medical staff.
Crosby pushed himself during a contact-free but demanding 45-minute workout Monday, only days after learning he had a potentially serious neck injury in addition to a concussion.
"I feel, Sidney feels, he’s gotten every possible support from the Penguins and the Penguins’ medical staff in the situation he’s in, to try to find an answer to where he’s at, what his condition is, what is his best road for recovery," Bylsma said. "He’s gotten every available support from both the Penguins and from our medical staff and going other places and getting medical treatment. That’s how we feel about it and I know Sidney feels the same way."
Teammates said Crosby’s extensive workout with two other injured teammates was easily his best since he last played on Dec. 5 — he has practised only once since then — and offered hope that the NHL’s biggest star might return this season.
If only they knew when.
An unidentified third-party physician is currently reviewing Crosby’s case and, until his findings are revealed, the Penguins do not know much longer their superstar will be further sidelined. He has played only eight games since Jan. 5, 2011.
"Physically he’s looked a lot better the last couple of weeks," defenceman Brooks Orpik said. "He looks a lot more upbeat. And if that’s the case, maybe he can put some of this stuff behind him and move forward without any precaution, I guess."
Despite Crosby’s two extended layoffs since he was first sidelined with a concussion nearly 13 months ago, Bylsma said there hasn’t been any guessing about Crosby’s condition.
Still, numerous Penguins fans were alarmed and upset that Crosby sustained the neck injury at some point in addition to at least one concussion and possibly another, and they questioned why it took so long for it to be discovered. The Penguins themselves did not know of the neck injury until it was diagnosed last week by Dr. Robert S. Bray, a California-based neurological spine specialist.
Bray told Crosby that the neck injury has healed, and the Penguins almost certainly would not have allowed Crosby to work out Monday with injured teammates Jordan Staal and Simon Despres if it hadn’t.
Crosby did not speak to reporters after he skated hard, fast and for extended stretches and took part in shooting and conditioning drills before a full-team practice at Consol Energy Center.
Crosby worked, according to Bylsma, "at a pretty good clip."
Bylsma acknowledged that, for as good as he looked Monday, Crosby is "nowhere close" to being cleared for contact.
Crosby is known to have consulted this season with at least three outside medical specialists, in Florida, Utah and California, in addition to the Penguins’ doctors and his own concussion specialists in Pittsburgh.
While Crosby has been skating on his on for several weeks, Monday marked the first time he has taken the ice with teammates since he worked out with the Penguins during a two-game Florida road trip in mid-January.
Pittsburgh hosts Toronto on Tuesday, and it will be the 22nd game Crosby has missed during his latest concussion-related layoff. He also missed the Penguins’ final 41 games last season and their first 20 this season.
"Everybody in this room loves Sid and he just deserves our support," defenceman Kris Letang said. "It’s great to know when something is wrong what is going on and maybe now he can really focus on getting back and treated (for) whatever is wrong."
Still, neither Bylsma, general manager Ray Shero nor the Penguins know exactly when Crosby’s latest comeback will occur. It’s the same exasperating wait-and-see situation the Penguins have found themselves in for all but two weeks over the last one-plus years.
.What the Penguins are certain of is that Crosby — the best player in hockey when he was hurt a season ago — is very much worth the wait.
"He was pretty excited about being back on the ice and being back with some of his teammates," Bylsma said.
The Penguins are more than eager for Crosby to rejoin a lineup that, with all-star centre Evgeni Malkin playing better than he has since he won the NHL scoring title during a Stanley Cup-winning season in 2009, would be a threat to win another Cup with a full lineup. Malkin leads the league in scoring and James Neal is among the goal-scoring leaders.
Letang, one of the NHL’s most skilled offensive defencemen, also returned recently after sitting out nearly two months with his own concussion.
Even without Crosby, the Penguins will take a seven-game winning streak into the game against the Maple Leafs.