It's been nearly one full year since Sidney Crosby was last in the lineup. It has been nearly one full year of uncertainty over the future of one of Pittsburgh's, the NHL's, and the sport's brightest stars. It has been nearly one full year of asking the same question with no answer: when will Sidney Crosby return? Well, the question is rhetorical no more: Sidney Crosby will play tomorrow night against the New York Islanders.
What can we expect? Well, according to Coach Bylsma, Sid will center a line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. Although Sid is returning to what is effectively the Pens top line, his ice time will be closely monitored. Sid indicated to Bylsma he feels he can handle 12 minutes of ice time for the game. Personally, I'd be more than happy if Sid stayed below 10 minutes. Sidney Crosby has tremendous personal drive and has been practicing vigorously for some time, but a year layoff is still a year layoff. Tomorrow night should be another small step in the slow, methodical approach the Pens and Crosby have taken since his treatment began.
Returning to live action is an important milestone in the recovery process, but we would be wise to remember it's not the end of the recovery. It is going to take time for Sid to fully re-acclimate to the tempo and the physical and mental toll a regular playing schedule demands. Even with his ice time closely metered, Sid may still need to take a night off (especially on back-to-back evenings) just to make sure he can fully recover between games. The most important thing for Sid right now is making sure he's physically and mentally 100% every time he steps on the ice; Sid cannot afford to have either compromised.
In reality, it may take a few months before Sid is fully adjusted back to daily life in the NHL. It may take considerably longer for him to return to the dominant form he displayed before he was injured in January. If anything, we've learned two things since then: First, be patient. Second, never count Sid "The Kid" out. Right now, we'll just have to take it one step at a time. Right now, we're just thrilled to welcome Number 87 back to the ice where he belongs...