Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby skated Friday for the first time in more than a month, and his teammates left little doubt they're behind their captain as he continues to recover from a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms.
The Penguins taped a "C'' on each of their practice jerseys in tribute to Crosby, who hasn't played since Dec. 5 after the symptoms that kept him sidelined for nearly a year returned.
Crosby joined the rest of the team on the ice for the final 30 minutes of a morning skate before Friday night's game against the Florida Panthers, shooting a few pucks and making a few passes.
While Crosby called his return a "positive," he's still uncertain when he'll be cleared to practice, let alone play.
"The symptoms are getting a lot better, but I wouldn't say (I'm) symptom free," Crosby said.
The 24-year-old Crosby suffered similar symptoms last January and missed more than 10 months. He returned in spectacular fashion on Nov. 21, scoring a pair of goals against the New York Islanders. He tallied 12 points in eight games before the symptoms returned after a 3-1 loss to Boston.
The Penguins have struggled to find the net without their captain, managing just six goals during their current six-game losing streak, a slide that's dropped a team considered a Stanley Cup contender two months ago into the bottom half of the Eastern Conference.
Doctors have cleared Crosby for "light exertion," and he was clearly out of breath when he addressed reporters shortly after leaving the ice. While acknowledging skating is "better than being on a bike" there are restraints on what he can do.
Crosby admitted to having dizziness and balance problems, though the bigger issue remains how his body reacts when he's moving.
"The motion stuff has kind of been the issue from the time before and going through it a bit now," he said. "The good thing is I have a pretty good handle on it."
Though the injury-ravaged Penguins have looked dismal over the last few weeks, Crosby shot down any discussion that the silence surrounding his condition — he hadn't spoken to the media in a month — was causing a rift in the dressing room.
"I've been around hockey long enough to know this stuff goes on when you're losing," Crosby said. "I don't think we'd be talking about it if we'd won five straight."
Crosby was a constant presence around the team during training camp and joined the Penguins on each road trip before his return just before Thanksgiving. He hasn't been quite as visible during his current rehab but doesn't think he's alienating his teammates.
"I understand my responsibility," he said. "I've been doing this long enough if there's information to give that's part of my role. I think if there's no information to be given then I'm not going to give any. I'm not going to make something up and I'm not going to cause distraction or create distraction as a part of that."
Unlike last year, when Crosby sustained two obvious shots to the head, this time there was no single play that caused the symptoms to return. He has applauded the league's effort to crack down on dangerous plays.
"They can only do so much at the end of the day it's up to us as players," Crosby said. "It's a quick game. Things can happen ... they have done a lot of good things to prevent it from happening."
Still, it hasn't stopped some of the league's elite players from dealing with concussions this season. Philadelphia defenseman Chris Pronger is out for the year with concussions, while Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang hasn't played since late-November after sustaining a head shot. Letang has been cleared to workout and appears to be ahead of Crosby in terms of rehabilitation.
Crosby hasn't ruled out returning this season and vowed to remain with his teammates even if that means watching instead of playing.
"You always want to be around them, when you're losing too, you want to be there and go through it," he said. "It's good for me to be around the guys and hopefully support them and they can see that I'm getting closer and closer."