After undergoing wrist surgery on September 8th, Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby was forced to miss the team’s first seven games of the NHL regular season. However, he was back in the lineup on Saturday evening against the New Jersey Devils trying to help his team pick up an important two points.
His return to the ice didn’t exactly go according to plan though, as Crosby was called for a penalty on New Jersey winger Jesper Bratt late in the third period with the score tied at 2-2. The Devils eventually scored on the ensuing power play and ultimately won the game 4-2.
“I thought he competed hard,” Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan said following his team’s loss, via ESPN. “It was his first game in five months. We all have high expectations for him. But it’s not easy to jump right into an NHL game.
“Our expectation is that it’s going to take a bit to get his timing. He’ll get better every game.”
The loss was Pittsburgh’s third in regulation time this season, their fifth overall as they now sit with eight points from eight games. The team understands that they will need to be much better going forward if they are to be considered legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
“I don’t think we played well tonight. I thought we pushed in the third [period], but for me, we weren’t good enough,” Sullivan continued. “We need to be better as a team in all areas.”
The coach wasn’t the only one to be critical after the loss. Nobody understands what it takes to be competitive in the NHL more than Crosby does and he knew that he nor his team was good enough on Saturday evening.
“It’s nice to be back. I love being back out there with the guys, but ultimately, you want to win and play well, and that didn’t happen tonight,” Crosby said, via ESPN. “So, got some improving to do here.”
The centerman played alongside Evan Rodrigues and Jake Guentzel on the top line for the Penguins, where he is used to. Crosby averaged more than a point per game last season, scoring 24 goals and 38 assists in 55 games and the club is hoping for a similar output this year as well.
Pittsburgh has failed to get past the opening round of the playoffs since they last won the Stanley Cup in 2017 and are desperate to get back to the pinnacle while the likes of 34-year-old Crosby and 35-year-old Evgeni Malkin are still playing.
The captain wasn’t the only one to return to the lineup on Saturday night for the Penguins either, with veteran Jeff Carter returning after being out for a total of three games. Carter entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol after a confirmed positive test.
“It’s awesome to have them both back,” Penguins’ forward Danton Heinen said of both Crosby and Carter. “Obviously, they are unbelievable players.”
The Penguins will get plenty of time to work out their issues on the ice this week as they do not play another game until Thursday evening when they host their inner-state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers at PPG Paints Arena. Puck drop on Thursday night is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.