Even if they’re not quite certain how it’s going to look, not even to coach Dan Bylsma.
Though the Penguins have upgraded the offense since Crosby went out last January, trading for James Neal and signing Steve Sullivan, Crosby was paired with Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz in his return because of a certain comfort level obtained through years of playing together.
“You just hope you don’t mess up for him,” Kunitz joked.
Crosby, as is his way, figures it’s the other way around. He downplayed comparisons to Mario Lemieux’s return from cancer in 2000, when the Hall of Famer and current team owner notched an assist on his first shift then later scored a goal as the Penguins won 5-0.
“He set the standard pretty high for first shifts on comebacks and stuff,” Crosby said. “It’s pretty hard to match that.”
The Penguins don’t need him to be Lemieux, they don’t even need him to be the player he was last January, when he led the league in goals and points before taking shots against Washington in the Winter Classic and Tampa Bay four days later.
Then again, his teammates have seen enough since training camp began to think the road back to spectacular play for Crosby is pretty short.
“It’s not going to be easy but who knows, he can make it look easy,” Staal said. “You can’t really do it unless you go through it, but he’s talented enough that he can do some great things.”
And do them in bunches. Crosby was on his way to capturing his second MVP award when he was injured.
It all changed on Jan. 6 when he was diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms that he later described as “fogginess.”
He unwittingly became a case study for the effects of head shots on the game and led the NHL to crack down on such plays.
If it helps make the sport he loves safer, Crosby is all for it. That’s not why he came back, however. He wanted to play, not make a statement.
“I’ve been working hard the last couple months to make sure when it’s time to come back, I’m ready,” Crosby said. “Do I expect to be where I was in January last year? Probably not, but I expect to contribute.”
Even if his teammates and the entire hockey world will hold their breath the first time he gets knocked around.
“That’s just normal to be like that,” Neal said. “The first hit is always like that. Hopefully he’s good to go and I’m sure he will be. He’s so quick and so fast and agile it’s tough to hit him.”