Crosby sparkles in NHL season debut
New York Islanders goaltender Anders Nilsson never had a chance.
Welcome back, Sid the Kid.
The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar capped his 10-month comeback from concussion-like symptoms in thrilling fashion, scoring a pair of goals to go with two assists in a 5-0 victory on Monday.
It was a storybook end to Crosby’s frustratingly methodical return, one marked by numerous setbacks, rumors and questions about whether the 24-year-old former MVP would regain the form that’s made him one of the league’s most popular players.
The early returns were a resounding yes.
Skating onto the ice to chants of “Crosby! Crosby!” the Penguins captain wasted little time showing he was back for good.
Pittsburgh nearly scored on his first shift and he made his third one count, taking a pass from linemate Pascal Dupuis before racing through the New York defense and zeroing in on Nilsson. The gloveside backhand was good for a moment that was nearly a year in the making.
Crosby thrust his arms to the sky in triumph, letting out a guttural scream as crowd waved “Sid!” signs.
He did it again near the end of the first period, feeding Brooks Orpik on a pass to the point that Orpik turned into his second goal of the season.
It was the kind of brilliant performance reminiscent of Crosby’s idol, Hall of Famer and current Penguins owner Mario Lemieux.
Super Mario notched a goal and two assists in his return from retirement in 2000.
Crosby said early Monday it would be hard to match the moment. It was. And Crosby may have topped it anyway.
The scintillating play was validation for Crosby, who never doubted he’d play hockey again. There’s no healing from the kind of shots Crosby took in back-to-back games last January. There’s only dealing with a new normal.
Crosby spent nearly a year painstakingly going through the checklist, enduring test after test and blocking out rumor after rumor that he was done.
“I think now’s the easy part, now you get to play,” Crosby said. “When you’re getting ready, that’s the tough part, practicing and going through each of those steps, trying to get through each stage. That’s really all the hard work. Now you’ve just got to go out and do it.”
How, exactly, he’ll do it remains to be seen.
Though Crosby has been cleared for contact since Oct. 13, he understands there’s a major difference between hitting in practice and hitting in a game.
Even he wasn’t sure how he’d react.
“I think that anyone who has gone through this that would be lying if they said they weren’t anxious to get those first couple hits in, whether it’s giving it or taking it,” Crosby said. “After that it’s back to normal.”
Things certainly looked that way, with Crosby taking a shot from New York’s Travis Hamonic on a Pittsburgh power play. Hamonic checked Crosby cleanly to the ice. In a flash he was back on his feet allowing the Penguins to exhale.
Crosby’s return produced the kind of buzz normally reserved for a Stanley Cup final. The team issued more than 250 media credentials—about four times the usual number for a late-November game—and upper concourse seats were being scalped for $275 two hours before the puck dropped.
Though Pittsburgh has gotten along just fine this season without its captain, entering Monday night tied with Philadelphia atop the Atlantic Division, it understood things change the moment No. 87 slides off the bench and onto the ice.
In the span of a day, the Penguins went from Cup contenders to Cup favorites.
“With or without Sid we wanted to win every night and we had a chance to win every night,” center Jordan Staal said. “Obviously it’s going to be different with him going back and everyone fitting in and having the pieces together ... we know what we have here.”