The Penguins captain practiced Friday after missing the previous four on-ice sessions (two morning skates and two practices). Crosby is recovering from wrist surgery Sept. 8.
“It’s just been a progression the last six weeks,” the center said. “Started off skating with no pucks and one hand on the stick, progressed to stickhandling a little bit. Shooting, eventually. Kind of had that progression, and obviously being able to join the team once I could do a little more as far as battling and things like that.
“I think, at this point, it’s more seeing how that progression goes. That will determine, eventually, when I play.”
Crosby has been ruled out against the Toronto Maple Leafs at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, ATTSN-PT, ESPN+, NHL LIVE). Pittsburgh is 2-0-2 this season without Crosby and second-line center Evgeni Malkin, who is expected to be out until at least December after having knee surgery June 4.
The original recovery time frame for Crosby had been at least six weeks from the date of surgery; Friday marks six weeks and two days.
“I haven’t really had any force, whether it be through face-offs or lifting sticks, going against guys, that sort of thing,” Crosby said. “Battling. Pushing and shoving. Those are things I haven’t been able to do. When I can do that comfortably and be able to do it without pain, or just kind of manage those things, I think that will be a big step.”
After the surgery, Crosby first joined the Penguins for a morning skate before a preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 9. He worked with skills coach Ty Hennes before practices throughout most of training camp.
“An essential step for Sid is just being on the ice with other players,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “Having 10 guys around him and that special awareness of real hockey that I think players are required to go through. … With each step that Sid takes, he gets a little bit more confident.”
Crosby said the injury had bothered him since March 23, 2014. New York Rangers forward Ryan Reaves, then with the St. Louis Blues, caught him in the wrist.
“First time I ever injured it was seven years ago,” Crosby said. “[Reaves] got a hold of me pretty good at home here after the Olympics. It was something that I kind of had to manage since then. Was able to avoid having to really do any surgeries or anything like that until last year. Was something I was always able to manage somehow in the summer, just being able to get rest.
“During the year, it was something that would come back and I’d get through it. This year, it just wouldn’t come back for the summer. Tried to rehab it. You try to avoid surgery. That’s the last resort. Sometimes, it would come later on in the summer. This year, it didn’t.”
Crosby said when his wrist didn’t respond the way it normally would during the offseason, surgery became the only way to avoid missing significant games later in the regular season.
“So we all felt like it was something where I wouldn’t have gotten through the season if I didn’t take care of it,” Crosby said. “Unfortunately, I end up missing some time here early, but I guess they decided [it was better than] missing out on a lot more games toward the end of the year. So glad that we took care of it. Hopefully, I’ll get back and playing here shortly.”
Crosby had arthroscopic wrist debridement surgery on the same hand Aug. 31, 2020.
“This was something that was different than that,” Crosby said. “It’s definitely something I can’t have done again. Maybe on the other hand, I could. But not this one.
Jeff Carter, who had been first-line center in place of Crosby the first four games, entered NHL COVID-19 protocol Thursday. Evan Rodrigues likely will center that line with left wing Jake Guentzel and right wing Kasperi Kapanen on Saturday.
Pittsburgh is also without first-line right wing Bryan Rust, who is week to week with a lower-body injury. Guentzel missed the first game of the regular season in COVID-19 protocol.
The Penguins have yet to lose in regulation, leaving Crosby impressed.
“Everyone is playing the same way, every line that goes out there over the board is playing hard,” Crosby said. “Playing fast and we’re not giving teams a lot of time and space. Our work ethic is kind of setting the tone for everything else. … I feel like, right from Game One, we got to our game pretty quickly. So it’s good to kind of get to that identity early.”