PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby could make his season debut for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they host the Calgary Flames at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, ATTSN-PT, SNW, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).
Recovering from wrist surgery Sept. 8, the Penguins captain, who is day to day, returned to his usual spot at first-line center during practice Wednesday, skating with left wing Jake Guentzel and right wing Evan Rodrigues, who had been center on the first line the past two games.
“You guys watch him progressing in practice, he participated out there in a full capacity today,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’ll see how he responds. We’ll listen to the medical staff and we’ll make decisions accordingly. But we’re real encouraged with his progress. We think he’s getting real close. We’ll take each day as it comes and make decisions accordingly.”
Crosby has participated in the past three full practices. In addition to returning to the first line, he also joined the top power-play unit for the first time Wednesday.
“It’s exciting for us when we can plug Sid into his normal spot,” Sullivan said. “I think it changes the outlook of our team. So it’s certainly exciting for us to watch the practice, watch our team. You can see the reaction, even with our own players. We just have more of a jump in our step. He has that influence.
“I think our team gets excited when he’s participating in the way he is right now. Like I said, we’re going to take each day as it comes here. But certainly, we’re very encouraged by Sid’s progress at this point.”
Crosby and second-line center Evgeni Malkin, who is expected to be sidelined until at least December after having knee surgery June 4, have not played for the Penguins (3-1-2) this season. Pittsburgh opened the season with a five-game point streak, which ended with a 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
Sullivan said to his knowledge there are no medical clearances keeping Crosby from returning.
Pittsburgh has also been without forwards Bryan Rust and Jeff Carter and defenseman Kris Letang the past two games. Rust, the usual first-line right wing, is week to week with a lower-body injury; Carter and Letang each is in NHL COVID-19 protocol.
Carter was first-line center for the Penguins’ first four games. Letang is a top-pair defenseman.
Crosby worked with skills coach Ty Hennes through most of training camp before joining Pittsburgh for a preseason morning skate Oct. 9. He later missed four consecutive on-ice sessions, two practices and two morning skates before rejoining the Penguins on Oct. 22.
After returning to practice, Crosby said he would like to comfortably take face-offs and perform stick lifts before playing. He worked on face-offs with forward Brian Boyle during an optional morning skate Tuesday.
“It’s always nice having him back on the ice in practice,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “It’s fun to watch. Fun to be around. Makes guys around him better. We’re looking forward to having him back when that time comes.”
The wrist injury stems from March 23, 2014. Crosby said New York Rangers forward Ryan Reaves, then with the St. Louis Blues, caught him in the wrist.
Crosby, who had arthroscopic wrist debridement surgery on the same wrist Aug. 31, 2020, said he would typically manage the injury during the offseason in order to avoid surgery. When his wrist didn’t respond this summer the way it normally would, Crosby said surgery was the only option to avoid missing significant games later in the regular season.
Now in his 17th NHL season, Crosby needs 14 goals to reach 500 in the NHL. The three-time Stanley Cup champion (2009, 2016, 2017), led Pittsburgh with 62 points (24 goals, 38 assists) in 55 games last season.
“He certainly hasn’t gotten any worse,” goalie Casey DeSmith said. “He’s really coming along. He’s been working hard. He’s been putting in a lot of hours trying to get back into form. Hopefully he’ll be back soon.”