|Crosby doesn't score a goal, but he's on the ice for three of them. (Getty Images)|
Sidney Crosby made his second debut this season with all eyes being on him. Yes, it's the biggest story of the night. Yes, he's the biggest player in the game.
But the interesting thing on Thursday night was that somehow Crosby's return felt like an afterthought after the Pittsburgh Penguins won for the 10th straight time and, more importantly, crept within four points of the Rangers in the standings by dispatching the Blueshirts 5-2.
I only said it felt that way. On the ROOT Sports broadcast of the game that was picked up by NBC Sports Network, there was a Sid Cam lingering in the upper left corner on the screen. At some points we just saw him sitting on the bench watching the game from the best seat in the house (with a visor on, of course).
And his impact was felt right away. With the Rangers faithful welcoming him on the ice the only way they know how -- Bronx style if you didn't already guess -- Crosby didn't take long to get his feet wet. He was on the ice for Matt Cooke's fluky goal that popped over Martin Biron's head and in before Crosby could push it home. He didn't get an assist on the play but the Penguins did score on his first shift.
Statistically speaking, his only point on the night came later when he found Chris Kunitz from the end boards to set up another goal.
But in all honesty, that's probably what Dan Bylsma and the Penguins would have signed up for, a quiet night for Crosby. They didn't want to rush him back into the game this time. That's why he began the game on a line with Cooke and Tyler Kennedy (that's one of the better third lines you'll see in the league, huh?).
In total he played 16:00 in 18 shifts. A lot of that came at the point position the power play. Some of it came on the wing for Evgeni Malkin . Much had been made about where Crosby would return when he was back, how do you break up any of the lines that have been working so well. Again, this team has won 10 in a row now, that means nine of those were without Crosby. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
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So that's the challenge. With Crosby not looking any worse for the wear -- seriously, you couldn't tell tonight that he was coming back from the injuries he's had -- where does he fit in? Bylsma was clearly still trying to figure that out on Thursday night.
Look, that's as good of a problem as a hockey coach can possibly have. If only every coach could be dealt with the burden of trying to add Crosby to a scorching hot team.
One of the reasons he did feel like an afterthought afterward was the fact that Kris Letang was even more impressive and impactful in his first game back in weeks. He was a monster on the ice for the Penguins, recording a plus-5 on the night, the first time he had ever been above a plus-3 in one game.
My colleague Adam Gretz has argued that Letang's return is more important to the Penguins than Crosby's, which has merit. But that's like picking between a hot fudge sundae and a banana split ... how do you not win?
Obviously now everybody fears for their lives in the East. As mentioned, the Penguins are just four points behind the Rangers now for the best record in the conference. What seemed like a certainty two weeks ago -- New York being No. 1 -- has become a race.
However, you know by now, Crosby is never an afterthought. You can be sure that the rest of the league will take notice of him returning and the Penguins going into MSG and coming out with an impressive and emphatic win. All of that with little from Crosby.