A day after a storybook comeback 320 days in the making, Sidney Crosby was feeling “a little sore, a little tired, but good.” Mostly, though, the Penguins captain was just feeling grateful for the opportunity to get back to playing hockey again.
“There’s something about a game day that’s just different … the preparation, the anticipation and all the stuff that comes with it. All those things combined were really fun to be a part of again, and to win and go that way was great.”
Indeed, the way Crosby’s comeback went was beyond what anyone could have reasonably expected from a player coming off of a more than 10-month layoff with concussion symptoms – even if that player is considered by many to be the best in the world. Just 5:24 into the contest, he found an extra gear to power around three defenders, flipped in a backhander to open the scoring, and went on to a dominant, four-point performance in the Penguins’ 5-0 win over the New York Islanders.
“That’s Sidney Crosby,” said forward Matt Cooke. “The guy loves the stage, he loves to play, and he’s one of the biggest competitors – not just in hockey, but in everything he does.”
“I had a feeling he could go out there and be at a high level,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “Not sure you could draw up the dramatic fashion in which the game unfolded, but him stepping back on the ice, the building, the embrace from the fans, the energy in the building and then what happened on the ice was special.”
Now, with that first test behind him, Crosby and his team can focus on what’s ahead. For the highly driven Crosby, naturally, the next step is to identify and focus on the aspects of his game that can use improvement – like regaining his endurance after a debut in which he surpassed expectations by playing nearly 16 minutes, mostly on sheer adrenaline.
“There are things, as the games go on, I have to improve and get better. It’s only going to happen through playing, so I just have to make sure that I’m aware of what that is and work hard at adjusting as soon as I can.”
Although Crosby isn’t buying into any discussion about his chances of spotting the rest of the NHL the first 20 games and still winning a scoring title – “I don’t think that’s possible, so not even something on my radar,” he said – he has plenty of reason to be motivated.
“After going through this, I want to get back to where I was last season. Winning is always the constant motivating factor. Individually, when you’re setting goals, I want to get back to where I was. I know that’s going to take time but, at the end of the day, you’re always working hard to win.”
And, even with a formidable roster that now includes a healthy Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, the Penguins know they’re going to have to work a lot harder to win than Monday’s contest might have made things look.
“That was a pretty high level from 87, and a lot of guys followed along,” Bylsma said. “At times it kind of looked easy, but there’s a lot to our game that we need to have to play that way. [Crosby’s] first goal is a great example … it wasn’t just a highlight-reel goal by a great player; that’s a D-zone play that starts that play. We’re coming out of the D zone, we have speed through the neutral zone, and that’s a lot of what we need to do to play well.
“We’re at Game 21; we’re a long ways away from being where we’ve got to be for Game 70. It’s nice to feel good about that game, it’s nice to put up 5-0 and have a great game, and it was an unbelievable atmosphere. But our focus coming in today – we didn’t have a party or celebration last night; there are areas we need to get better at. We looked at them today and addressed them in practice. We’ve got 61 more to go.”