The Washington Times - March 14, 2011, 06:35PM

The 2011 part of this NHL season has been pretty exciting – a crazy Western Conference where one night can see teams switch four places in the standings, a ridiculous run by the Devils that could lead to them playing meaningful hockey in April and some brawls with (gasp) goalie fights.

What it hasn’t had is Sidney Crosby. The Penguins star last played Jan. 5 at Tampa Bay and has since been out with postconcussion symptoms. On Monday he skated for the first time since then – at least a step toward his return to Pittsburgh’s lineup.

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“I feel good. It’s really early. It’s just part of progress and trying to get better,” Crosby told the Penguins’ official site. “I felt pretty good doing some light workouts. I was told I had the opportunity to skate. I went out there for 15 minutes to see how I felt. No real plan going forward. I felt good, so that’s a good sign.”

No clear timetable, but certainly good news for the Penguins, who have stayed remarkably close to the top of the Eastern Conference even without Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who’s out for the season with a knee injury. Pittsburgh trails East and Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia by three points, though the Pens have played two more games than the Flyers.

The Capitals don’t see Pittsburgh the rest of the regular season, so the only possible Crosby-Alex Ovechkin showdown would come in the playoffs.

Pronger to have surgery

Another East rival of the Caps, the Flyers, got the opposite kind of news Monday. Defenseman Chris Pronger will miss three to four weeks after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his right hand.

“We feel going in and just putting a little screw in this little piece of bone is the best way to move forward in terms of the healing process and get him back playing as soon as possible,” Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said on a conference call Monday afternoon.

Holmgren said the injury – which was called minor and Pronger’s status day-to-day as recently as Saturday – only showed up after a CT scan, not multiple X-rays and MRI’s. But the GM expects the big defenseman to be good to go for the playoffs.

“I think he’ll be 100 percent. Obviously the reason they want to put the screw in is to make it more stable,” Holmgren said. “Given the timeframe of recovery after the surgery, in three weeks, everybody thinks it’s going to be more stable than it ever was, and it takes away the risk of re-injuring it.”

What it means for the rest of the regular season is the Flyers playing without their best blue-liner with just a one-point lead on the Caps. Philadelphia, which is 11-5-2 without Pronger, has two games in hand on Washington.

With the Caps embarking on a six-game road trip (that includes a March 22 trip to Philadelphia), coach Bruce Boudreau said his eyes aren’t set on the No. 1 seed. But this is a much different trip than earlier in the season, since his team is rolling along.

“I think we’re in a safer position. Before we went on that last road trip, we were looking at that if we don’t have a successful road trip, we’re fighting our lives for a playoff spot,” Boudreau said. “Now we haven’t guaranteed anything, but since then we’ve got 90 points now, so we’re at least in the hunt for thinking that we’re gonna make the playoffs and looking for more. So it’s a different mindset.”

Pronger’s injury might change the mindset, too.

News and notes

Thoughts and prayers are with Sports Illustrated hockey writer Michael Farber, who started cancer treatment Monday. I had the pleasure of meeting him in Philadelphia last month as he was working on some stories, and he couldn’t have been more cordial and professional. …

In addition to Braden Holtby (first star), Canucks forward Daniel Sedin and Ducks forward Corey Perry earned weekly honors from the NHL. Sedin had three goals and five assists last week, while Perry had a league-best five goals and added two assists.