PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The Sidney Crosby wait goes on.
The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar's highly anticipated comeback won't take place this weekend, despite considerable speculation it would occur Friday against Dallas. It also might not be next week, or the week after.
No one with the Penguins is guessing when it might happen, if only because Crosby and his doctors simply don't know when he will be fully recovered from his concussion suffered 10 months ago.
Despite a palpable buzz during practice Thursday that Crosby's comeback might be mere hours away, coach Dan Bylsma soon after delivered the news that his captain won't play Friday against the Western Conference-leading Stars or Saturday at Carolina.
After that, who knows?
"He's had a good week of practice and is progressing," Bylsma said. "We're not keeping a secret. When he plays, we'll make sure to let you know."
There was heightened anticipation that Crosby might be ready after he refused Monday to rule out Friday as a possible return date, the first such hint he's dropped in the nearly two months since he resumed practising. As a result, a Stanley Cup playoffs-sized contingent of reporters from Canada and the U.S. converged on Pittsburgh, only to learn it wasn't yet time.
Despite the media throng, Crosby didn't talk to reporters for a second successive day Thursday, a rare bit of silence from a player who has been overly accommodating even while answering the same questions day after day: How do you feel? Are you ready to play? Do you have a target date?
So Bylsma tried to answer them, saying Crosby will play only when his doctors and medical consultants say he’s ready, regardless of the date or the Penguins' record.
"From a coach's standpoint, we're not looking for some indicator on the ice that Sidney can play," Bylsma said. "From a medical standpoint — in terms of clearances and the next steps and progression — that’s all the doctors' directive."
Penguins forward Steve Sullivan said there isn't much more Crosby needs to prove on the ice since he looks in practice to be as fast, as shifty and elusive, as game-ready as he can be.
"He looks pretty darn good to me," said Sullivan, a possible linemate once Crosby plays for the first time since Jan. 5. "But I'm not inside his head ... I haven't seen him enough to know whether he's 90 per cent or 80 per cent or 100 per cent."
While Crosby has performed at an exceedingly high level since making his NHL debut at age 18, he's learning that recovering from a head injury that affects the stability system can prove very difficult. And very lengthy.
After absorbing hard hits to the head in as many games on Jan. 1 and Jan. 5, Crosby went through months of discomfort in which he was sensitive to excessive noise, light and experienced repeated headaches.
Those concussion-related symptoms didn't vanish until a short time before the Penguins opened training camp Sept. 17. While Crosby says he has been symptom-free since, the Penguins warned in advance that he would need considerable time to be game-ready.
"Knowing what he's gone through the last 10 months, we want to make sure we're going through the right steps to have him return and be healthy and be ready to play," Bylsma said. "He looks great, he flies around, but in terms of progressing and the rehab that the doctors have set out ... we definitely want to go through that. When that process is over sometime down the road, we'll see one of the most gifted players in the world return to the game."
Then, Sullivan anticipates seeing the highly talented scorer and playmaker who had 66 points in 41 games last season — the highest scoring pace for any player in 15 years. Even if that might also take time.
"He's not going to be the Sidney Crosby of old the first game back," Sullivan said. "(But it's only) going to take him a couple of games."
With the Penguins enjoying a four-day break between games last week and a five-day break this week, Crosby is experiencing some of the contact — the pushing, shoving and jostling in the corners — he needed during practice to become game-ready.
"He's engaging as much as he can. He's going into areas trying to score goals. He's doing everything possible to be ready," Sullivan said. "He's doing all the drills, he's been part of everything. Hopefully he’s ready soon."