Pens set to make another run

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Sid the Kid is growing up.

Though he will live with team owner Mario Lemieux for another season, Sidney Crosby has been house shopping in the Iron City and just got back from an off-season spent at his summer estate on a lake outside Halifax.

In a couple of weeks, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain will be honoured with the order of Nova Scotia, a non-sporting award for those deemed to have brought great distinction to the province.

And now for the important stuff. At age 21, he's about to start his fourth season in the NHL and ready to shoulder the responsibility that goes with it -- namely to have the Pens build on their run to the Stanley Cup final this past spring.

After the shortest summer of his professional life, Crosby yesterday pronounced himself healthy and ready to lead his team one step higher.

"I couldn't do as much as I typically do because of the time frame and the importance of balancing conditioning with getting some rest," Crosby said after a training camp workout at Mellon Arena that looked more like a mid-season practice. "(The short summer) was kind of a new scenario for me, but one I could definitely get used to. I'd take that any day."

In terms of health, Crosby said the high ankle sprain that limited him to just 53 games in 2007-08, no longer is an issue. Nursing sore ribs and the other wear and tear of the playoff grind was the main physical rehab needed in the abbreviated vacation.

It also took some time to salve the sting of the loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the final, even though by most measures it was a wildly successful season for the Pens.

"It didn't happen overnight, but after a few weeks of really taking everything in and looking back, it was a great run," Crosby said. "It was disappointing the way it ended, but at the same time we gained a lot of experience from what we went through. We are definitely going to be a better team for it for sure."

With success comes expectation, a notion tempered somewhat by the loss of a handful of veterans in the off-season, most notably Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone.

It hasn't helped either that Ryan Whitney has a cast on his foot after surgery this summer and Sergei Gonchar suffered an undisclosed shoulder injury in a pre-season contest with Tampa Bay this past Saturday.

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But the team the Maple Leafs will see tonight is one certainly not lacking in top-six forwards, the very public and blunt lament Toronto general manager Cliff Fletcher made recently. Besides Crosby there is Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Petr Sykora and recently acquired Miroslav Satan, who for now has landed a spot on the wing with Crosby.

The Pens have stretched their room under the salary cap, but with star youngsters such as Crosby, Malkin and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury signed for the next four seasons, they are set up to be contenders for the foreseeable future.

Ticket sales have been brisk in the resurgent hockey market and with construction of the new arena underway, the future is looking settled.

It is for Crosby, as well. Though he plans to take his time buying a house to make sure he gets the digs to suit his comfort, he continues to grow into his role as an NHL superstar. And that includes managing his downtime.

As a result, the pride of Cole Harbour, N.S., feels fresh and ready to begin the season, which with a two-game set against Ottawa in Sweden gets off to a quick start.

"I just stayed on the lake and relaxed, tried not to move much," Crosby said. "I move a lot during the season. I just enjoyed the chance to stay in one spot."


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