Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sidney Crosby Return Lives Up To Hype

If the media had things the way the media would probably have wanted it, this wouldn't have played out the way it did.

Some 29 hours before the opening faceoff of Monday's Pittsburgh Penguins-New York Islanders game in Pittsburgh, the Penguins announced that captain/superstar/hockey lightning rod Sidney Crosby would be returning. Crosby was scheduled to play in a game for the first time since early January, when his MVP season was cut short by a concussion that wouldn't go away (presumptuous, maybe, but Sid had 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games, so saying he was on track for the MVP is probably quite the understatement).

Versus scuttled plans to televise Boston-Montreal (boring!). CBC scuttled plans to televise whatever CBC usually televises on Monday nights. They scrambled to get their broadcasters to Pittsburgh for the game, Versus sending Dave Strader and Pierre McGuire, while CBC went with the "A" team of Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson.

No one knew what to expect. Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma talked of Sid playing 12 minutes. He was going to play between Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz, his linemates last season. But would he have to kick off the rust, or would he quickly return to his old self?

The answer was quick. And it was as emphatic as it was quick.

It took all of 2:20 of ice time for Sidney Crosby to light the lamp.

Before the game, NHL Network's E.J. Hradek boldly predicted Sid would have three points. I was watching, and I wasn't so sure. After all, he wasn't going to have his normal ice time. He hadn't done anything at game speed since January.

The comeback from concussions eventually turns into a mental game. What would happen when Crosby was on the verge of getting hit. What would happen when he got hit hard? Would he shake it off and keep playing, or would there be doubts and questions about whether or not he was okay?

No worries. He took hits. He gave hits. He kept going, and he kept dazzling the home crowd in Pittsburgh.

It was a great show, even from the couch. Crosby did everything that made him the best player in the world before he was hurt. He has speed unlike virtually anyone else. His vision and smarts are second to none, too. But what makes Crosby great is that competitive drive, and it doesn't look like he's lost one bit of that drive.

From Bruce Arthur of The National Post:

And Crosby, once again, was able to soar to the occasion. A little over five minutes into his second hockey life, on his third shift, Crosby gathered a puck at speed in the neutral zone, raced right around defenceman Andrew MacDonald, and sliced a backhand over the glove hand of rookie goaltender Anders Nilsson. The clock froze at 5:24 and Crosby turned in the corner, flexed his arms, roared “F— yeah!” along with the crowd, turning the air a little blue.

He would add an assist on a Brooks Orpik one-timer that made it 2-0, and would pick up a secondary assist on the power-play goal by Evgeni Malkin that made it 3-0. He would win a puck battle, create space, and send a knuckling backhand that deflected off the leg of Islanders defenceman Steve Staios for the game’s final goal. Four points, and he could have had more — twice he set up teammates who hit the post. He kept displaying his old terrifying speed, his drive, his relentlessness. Like old times.

“The first draw — it’s a faceoff and he battles like it’s the last draw of the season,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.

“I felt like I was waiting forever,” said Crosby, who played just 15:54. “And I kind of was, in a way. I’ll have a great memory of this one for a lot of different reasons.”

Sure, the Islanders looked like a team that was a ladder and a bucket of confetti away from playing the Harlem Globetrotters. But it’s easy to forget that as recently as Sept. 7, Crosby didn’t absolutely rule out the possibility of retirement.

It was an incredible night for the sport, one that brought it plenty of attention it wouldn't normally get.

At the tail-end of November, that's hardly a bad thing.

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