He’s back: Sidney Crosby returns to Penguins’ lineup Monday

Puck Daddy

Last night was the 61st straight regular season game that Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has missed.

On Monday, after all the rumored comebacks and "retirement" talk, Crosby Watch 2011 will finally come to an end as he re-joins the Penguins' lineup when they host the struggling New York Islanders.

Through 20 games this season in Crosby's absence, the Penguins are 11-6-3 and sit tied with the Philadelphia Flyers with the most points in the Eastern Conference.

With no practice on Sunday, Crosby's media availability won't come until after Monday's morning skate. That sound you heard  was journalists from all over North America currently hopping on planes headed to the Steel City and cashing in their Marriott points.

Now that Sid is back, the question will become how soon he can return to his old self, or, if he can reach that level again. Pittsburgh plays four games this week with a back-to-back home to Ottawa on Friday and in Montreal on Saturday night. Those off-days will give Crosby's doctors the chance to evaluate his progress after a real game situation.

[Related: Bad loss to Maple Leafs puts Capitals coach on hot seat]

Crosby's been skating for a while now and even after he was cleared for contact on Oct. 13 his teammates didn't notice a different Sid.

"He's so fast and moves so well around," said James Neal to us last month. "I don't know how anyone can catch him to even get a piece of him. You try to. We want to get him ready as much as possible so he can come back and be as comfortable as possible to play, but he looks great out there. He's so agile and moves so well."

Considering the struggles of the Islanders, winners of two games in their previous 13, Crosby returning on Monday night might be a good thing for them in a way. Every single eyeball will be on No. 87 and the Penguins and not the issues currently going through the Islanders' lineup that led to Capuano sounding off in a post-game press conference after a 6-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. The only pressure on Capuano's squad will be the pressure they put on themselves to dig out of the deep hole they've dug.

After playing just two games last season with their three-headed monster of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, how much did the Penguins' Stanley Cup chances just increase by?

UPDATE: Penguins Head Coach Dan Bylsma announced Crosby will play on a line with Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz.

CBC will pick up the game in Canada, as will Versus in the U.S.

Photo credit: AP

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