Odd Man Rush: Healthy Crosby ready to contribute

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There is some thought that Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby is in perhaps the best shape of his life.

That is certainly a scary thought for the rest of the NHL.

When training camps opened on Sunday, Crosby was among those hitting the ice to practice alongside coaches for the first time since the end of a lockout that threatened to wipe out the entire season. Instead, the 30 teams will engage in a 48-game schedule that begins Saturday.

That leaves little time for teams to get ready, but six days is more than Crosby got last season. The former No. 1 pick missed the final 41 games of the 2010-11 regular season and the first 20 of the following campaign due to a concussion, returning for eight games before missing another 40 due to lingering effects from the head and neck injury.

"He just never had a summer of training last year, which as you know with Sidney is a huge part of him being an athlete," said Penguins general manager Ray Shero. "He missed so much time and, more importantly, missed all that summer training, which he's gotten back this summer and he's been hard at it for a long period of time and feels great. So that's exciting for us and exciting for him."

The good news for the Penguins is that Crosby has shown he needs little time to have an impact on the ice. After logging 66 points in the 41 games played before his injury, he notched 37 points in 22 games a season ago and another eight in six playoff games.

And the work Crosby got in over the summer should certainly help even if he had to wait an extra few months to put it to use. He certainly looked good on Sunday, according to head coach Dan Bylsma, who said that No. 87 looked "revved up and flying up the ice."

So is Crosby in the best shape of his career?

"Maybe in September, I don't know about now," Crosby said with a smile on Sunday.

"I felt pretty good. I was trying to manage off ice and on ice here the last few months, but I certainly felt like that coming off the summer and felt healthy and felt like I was in good shape. I shouldn't take too long to get that back, but game shape is definitely something on its own."

With little room for error due to a shortened season, the Penguins can't afford to give Crosby the occasional game off. And while a shortened training camp isn't ideal, especially for a player coming off an injury-plagued season, it is the hand that has been dealt.

"It's going to have to be," Crosby said of the limited time to get ready for the season. "I mean, everyone's kind of dealt the same thing. I think we're going to make the most of the time we have and make sure that we prepare the best we can, but I think everyone's forced to do that and you've got to find a way to make it work."

Things should work in Pittsburgh's favor as long as Crosby and teammate Evgeni Malkin both stay healthy. A knee injury limited Malkin to just 43 games in 2010-11, but he exploded for 50 goals and 109 points in 75 contests last season.

Malkin also should come into this season in great shape as he opted to play in the Kontinental Hockey League during the lockout. In 37 games with the Metallurg Magnitogorsk, the Russian forward had 23 goals and 65 points.

Of course, that also means Malkin could end up play in as many as 85 games not including playoffs, three more than a normal NHL season. But like Crosby, the Pens can't afford to give Malkin much rest.

Still, having the two talented scorers healthy at the same time is key to the Penguins making a serious push to another championship.

"It's exciting. It's kind of been hard to come by for us to both be in the lineup at the same time," Crosby noted. "To be healthy, especially with him playing half the season already, I think is a huge bonus for us. Coming off the season he had, hopefully, we can be dangerous out there."

With the New York Rangers having acquired Rick Nash this offseason and the Philadelphia Flyers getting perhaps a mental edge with a six-game upset of the Penguins in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs, Pittsburgh will need all able bodies to contribute over the coming months.

A healthy and contributing Crosby is a great start.