Love him or loathe him, Sidney Crosby is one of most heralded players and recognizable stars in the National Hockey League.
It’s been 320 days since he last took the ice for the Pittsburgh Penguins after two hits to the head in a four-day stretch last January sidelined him indefinitely.
On Monday night, the Penguins and the NHL finally get their star back when Pittsburgh hosts the New York Islanders at the Consol Energy Center.
“It`s been a long time,” Crosby told the reporters surrounding him after Monday’s morning skate. “I`m looking forward to it. It`s something I`ve thought about a lot over the last 10 months. I`m pretty excited.”
The Penguins are expecting a playoff-like atmosphere when their 24-year-old captain makes his long-awaited return — a jolt of energy that they hope will help them snap their two-game losing streak and move ahead of Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division standings.
“"The emotion of the game, the energy of the building, and the emotions of the team will play out because Sidney is in the lineup," coach Dan Bylsma told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review .
Crosby collided with former Washington Capitals center David Steckel during the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Four days later, Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman shoved Crosby from behind into the boards, forcing Crosby’s head into the glass. The cumulative effects of the hits resulted in a concussion that has kept the face of the Penguins franchise off the ice for the longest stretch of his playing career.
Cleared for contact for more than a month, the Penguins have been slow to ease the 2007 MVP back into the mix. It will be interesting to see how Crosby reacts to the hits he’s sure to take tonight — as well as how the referees call the game. It was Crosby’s injury forced the NHL to take a closer look at the way it polices hits to the head.
“I’ve taken as much (contact) as I possibly can,” Crosby said. “Now it’s time for the real thing. I’m excited for that.”