PITTSBURGH - Sidney Crosby was anxious.
The Pittsburgh Penguins captain was about to make his return Monday night after almost 11 months on the shelf with a concussion.
He was anxious about that first hit.
He was anxious about living up to expectations, always big, no matter the circumstances for the NHL's best player.
But one thing he was not worried about was dragging the Penguins down as he was asked kiddingly about joining a club that had gone 34-19-7 since he was hurt in January.
"I hope not," he said with a laugh. "That wouldn't be good."
There were a lot of smiles around the Penguins dressing room -- not to mention a crushing media presence -- as the Penguins, Pittsburgh and the NHL prepared to welcome back its biggest star. Crosby had been sidelined since taking hits to the head in successive games in early January. After months of rehab, rumours of his retirement and, finally, speculation over when his comeback would happen, Crosby was cleared to go.
Everyone, including Crosby, was interested to see how he would handle his first hit against the New York Islanders.
"Anyone who has gone through this is probably a little anxious," Crosby said after flying through the morning skate Monday. "I think if anything, the sooner you kind of get that first contact whether it's giving a hit or taking a hit, I think it's important to get that over with early and get used to that routine. That will come, hopefully. But, yeah, there are always nerves and that's normal."
After months of slow and sometimes painful improvement, Crosby was given the green light Sunday to play in a game.
Monday night's return wasn't something Crosby could even think about until recently. He has spoken about how even watching television or trying to drive became miserable challenges which would set off headaches during the months after he was diagnosed with a concussion.
"I tried not to think about how long it was going to be, but it seemed like the months just kind of kept adding up," he said. "It's all behind me now and I'm looking forward to getting started. I think obviously, the first month of going through this was pretty surprising, all those things happening and not really expecting it.
"It wears on you after a while."
Crosby said the past couple of months, since training camp started, his condition has been "really good."
He said he has taken a couple of good hits in practice -- including one from Deryk Engelland that caused him to spill into the boards -- which gave him some confidence going into Monday's game.
"There were a couple where you get up and make sure you're good and everything is good and you move on. You need that," Crosby said. "I'm confident and ready to go."
Crosby was expected to start on a line with wingers Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz. He played with them a fair bit last season before being sidelined after 41 games and a league-leading 66 points.
In talking with Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, Crosby suggested he'd want to play about 12 minutes, but the coach knew better.
"I laugh at that and know he's dead wrong," Bylsma said Monday morning. "(I know) he's going to want to get out there immediately again after his first (shift). He's going to want to get on the ice a lot more than 12 minutes."
Crosby said he was not expecting to duplicate the return of his boss and former landlord, Mario Lemieux, who came back in December 2000 after a three-year retirement. Lemieux had an assist 33 seconds into his first shift and finished the night with three points.
"Yeah, I remember it," Crosby said. "He set the standard pretty high for first shifts in comebacks and stuff.
"It's pretty hard to match that. Anyone who has missed a length of time like that, I think is just so happy to be back playing. Obviously there are expectations, but I think you just try to enjoy being back and try to make the most of the opportunity."