Crosby returns to NHL with two goals, two assists
It didn't take long for Pittsburgh Penguins star centre Sidney Crosby to make his presence felt during his first NHL game in 10 months.
Only five minutes into Monday's highly anticipated game against the New York Islanders, Crosby picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone at full speed, zoomed past two defenders and put the puck in the top shelf. Later in the game, he added another goal and two assists.
It was a dramatic return for Crosby, who missed nearly a year from the NHL with post-concussion syndrome after a hit on last January.
While the hockey world has been awaiting Crosby's return with much concern, the Islanders played Crosby hard in the game's early going, including a couple of plays where the 24-year-old centre was knocked to the ice with hard hits.
Crosby had been cleared for contact six weeks ago, fuelling speculation his return to regular season play was imminent. The team ended the speculation with their announcement Sunday, with Penguins coach Dan Bylsma saying Crosby is both "excited" and "anxious" to return.
Earlier, even Crosby said he was nervous.
"I've been working hard over the last couple months but it's been a long time since I played a game so I don't really know what to expect. But I've tried to give myself every chance to be ready and to play the best I possibly can," said Crosby, who is sporting a moustache.
But he showed very few jitters from the moment he stepped on the ice, setting up two other goals later in the game.
Howard Bloom, the publisher of Sports Business News, says Crosby's return is huge for the game.
"It's as big a deal as it can be for hockey. Sidney Crosby is the face of hockey, and he is one of the more recognizable in the sports industry," Bloom said.
Crosby has not played a game since Jan. 5, when he was driven into the boards by Tampa Bay defenceman Victor Hedman. He had taken a hard hit four days before from the Capitals' David Steckel, which may have set him up for the concussion.
Crosby suffered for months with post-concussion symptoms that included dizziness, nausea and sensitivity to light and loud noises.
Physiologist Dr. Greg Wells who specializes in athletic performance training, says Crosby is still at risk of being hurt again if he gets hit.
"He has to be careful, but it looks like he's followed the right recovery protocol this time," he said.
Wells explained that Crosby was tested repeatedly over the last 10 months to see how much aerobic exertion he could endure without any concussion symptoms. Each time his symptoms returned, he had to stop, rest, and then start over again.
"We saw Sidney Crosby take almost 10 months to go through the process, and that's exactly what we're hoping that people are aware of now: that you don't have to rush back," Wells said. "And if you do rush back, you may be predisposing yourself to… a higher risk and greater likelihood of a severe injury."
As for worries that other players could make Crosby a target to keep him sidelined longer, Bloom says he doesn't believe that.
"They're not going to take a run at Sidney because he's injury-prone," Bloom said.
"But the Islanders and later in the week, the Senators, each of those teams has to wants to earn the two points against the penguins. They're not - and they should not - be holding back when they take on Sidney Crosby."