Sidney Crosby cleared for contact; optimism met with caution

PITTSBURGH -- Tuesday's practice at CONSOL Energy Center wasn't your typical daily skate. A night after the Pittsburgh Penguins won their sixth in a row with a 2-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes, eight players were missing from practice, including Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury. Same went for the media as the Pittsburgh contingent wasn't as large as it would be for a gameday skate.

One player who did partake in practice, as he has regularly over the past several weeks, was captain Sidney Crosby. And as members of the media were huddled around inside the locker room waiting for the team to enter, they were informed that Crosby would be speaking today.

Would he have anything to say was the question.

As is routine, the first question to Crosby was an update about his status and with that he broke the news that he was cleared for contact three months and a day after he last played for the Penguins.

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After that brief eight-game return, there is obvious hesitation on the part of Crosby and the Penguins to celebrate this news. Crosby said Tuesday morning there was no timetable on a return to the lineup, but obviously it's a step in the right direction.

"I've been through this before," said Crosby. "Contact is the big step. It's nice to be symptom free, but it's not as fulfilling until you get out there. I just want to make sure that I take the right steps here and get back out there soon."

What could soon be? That's anyone's guess.

"It's more in tune with how he feels as he goes through a few days of practice," said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. "Today wasn't extensive in terms of getting a lot of contact. He had some extra drills after practice with some contact. We'll see over the next days before we decided when there might be a date."

Without their captain, the Penguins are 34-19-4 this season and sit fourth in the Eastern Conference, eight points behind the conference and Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers. In Crosby's absence, there are nights when you watch the Penguins and see them as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. General manager Ray Shero made zero moves before last week's trade deadline knowing that the biggest addition to the roster, if healthy, wouldn't be coming via asset exchange with another GM.

While the Penguins aren't ready to unfurl any website banners like they did before Crosby's first game back last November, it is at least good news, even with the uncertainty of getting the answer to the question of "When?"

"We have two more practices this week, said Crosby. "No sooner than Sunday [versus Boston], I would say, but I'm not going to sit here and put a date on it. It would be total guesswork.

"I just want to make sure I get through these days fine and that would be a great decision to make if I get to that point."

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy

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