And the plan for Sidney Crosby is ...?
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Sidney Crosby stood the hockey world on its collective head just three weeks ago, scoring two goals and four points in his epic comeback game against the New York Islanders. Right off the hop he showed the unbelievable speed, skill and determination that's made him the NHL's best player. He exceeded his own coach's expectations, playing nearly 16 minutes after coach Bylsma stated he wanted to limit Crosby to 12 minutes.
Though the goal scoring has since dropped off – he has failed to score in seven straight since picking up a pair against the Islanders – he still registered eight assists in his last seven contests.
Surprisingly, Crosby displayed an even greater feisty on-ice attitude than he did before his concussion. He compiled four minors in his first three games. He tangled with David Backes in his second game and elbowed Nick Foligno the next time out. He continued the amped-up style of play through Monday.
Against the Boston Bruins, Crosby received a hard check from David Krejci, fell to the ice alongside Milan Lucic and collided with linemate Chris Kunitz at center ice.
"Sidney took a hard hit during our game against Boston Monday night and wasn't feeling 100 percent," Pens GM Shero said, adding that Crosby saw UPMC concussion specialist Micky Collins and passed an imPACT neurocognitive test.
"However, we all think it's best that he sits out the next two games as a precaution," Shero told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
A day later Pens coach Dan Bylsma updated the story on Crosby's status, saying that it was not a "one-time incident in the game" that caused his problem.
"He took a couple of hits in the game and didn't feel 100 percent after the game," Bylsma said.
"Crosby knows his body well – he spent a long 10 months [recovering from a concussion] – and, as a precautionary measure, is just taking Thursday night's game off, and through the weekend," Bylsma said.
A day after telling the media that his knee felt good (from the Kunitz collision), Crosby spoke about his "slight headaches."
"I just want to be smart with this," Crosby told the Penguins' Web site. "It's been a long road back and we want to err on the side of caution.
"I've taken some good hits over the past few weeks and am happy with the way my body responded … but after discussing things with doctors it was better to make sure I was cautious before returning to play."
Where do the Penguins go from here? Crosby is eight games into his comeback and he's already suffering from headaches.
What options does the team have? Here are a few.
Crosby can go through with his expected practices the next several days. If he feels good then can return Tuesday against Detroit, almost as if his headaches were like an ankle injury or some other physical ailment. His presence is surely needed on a team that's missing half of its defensemen and has scored only eight goals in four games.
The Pens could also keep him out Tuesday, choosing instead to hold him back until Friday, Dec. 16, the next time Pittsburgh plays after the Red Wings game. Just because symptoms leave for a couple days doesn't mean they can't come back shortly thereafter.
Remember, Crosby dealt with headaches upon reaching 85-90 percent exertion during his rehab.
These options appear to be short-term in nature but if the organization truly believes Crosby is okay, it's a good be he returns Tuesday.
On the other hand, a truly long-term outlook might see Crosby's schedule reduced in some capacity. Whether the team should've eased him back into action more than it did, with a game or two off, is a moot point.
It's still possible, however, that the team could sit him out periodically. This option doesn't seem to have much support from fans and observers. The thinking is that if he's seemingly healthy enough to play than why sit him. Let him get into his routine and he should be okay.
One team medical consultant, Ted Carrick, called him a Ferrari during a training camp press conference and later said that Crosby was ready to go with no restrictions. Pittsburgh consultant, Micky Collins, approved his return as did team doctor, Charles Burke.
Whether it would be prudent to give Crosby additional time off is in the hands of Burke and ultimately, Crosby.
On a macro level, the Penguins seem set for a playoff run. The team has its problems, mostly due to injury, but Evgeni Malkin continues to play at an elite level. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is playing the most consistent hockey of his seven-year career. Making the playoffs does not seem to be in question.
Another option is for the organization to call a timeout give Crosby an extended period off. For exactly how long would be the big question. One month, two months? What if the team sat him until a month before the playoffs begin? That scenario wouldn't be popular right now, but it might give Pittsburgh the best chance having Crosby come playoff time.
After all, if the team can wait 10-plus months, what's another two and a half months until March?
Eight games and Crosby is already experiencing headaches. He's twenty four years old. He's got a long and prosperous career ahead of him if the Penguins handle him properly.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have some tough questions in front of them. The decisions they endorse will help determine the future of the NHL's best player.
Holding a Ferrari like Crosby back is never an easy thing to do, but it might be the best way to go right now.