Bears

Hockey's biggest star returns to ice Monday night

594150.jpg

Hockey's biggest star returns to ice Monday night

From Comcast SportsNet

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The great wait is finally over for Sidney Crosby.

Crosby, the NHL's biggest name but an idled star for more than 10 months due to a serious concussion, will return to the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup Monday night against the New York Islanders.

It was difficult Sunday to tell who was happier Crosby, who finally returns to the sport he was dominating at this time a year ago, the first-place Penguins themselves or the NHL's hierarchy, which has long awaited the comeback of its marquee talent.

This will likely be the NHL's most-anticipated comeback game since former Penguins star Mario Lemieux ended his 3 12-season retirement by playing against the Maple Leafs on Dec. 27, 2000.

"He's excited. He's anxious. He's been wanting to play hockey for a long time," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said after talking with Crosby, who was cleared Sunday to play by his doctors. "Now that he is scheduled to play, the anticipation is coming to the forefront and he's excited."

He's not the only one.

Crosby's return figures to give a major lift to the Penguins, who, even without their best player, are 11-6-3 and are tied with Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference lead. Monday's game will be only the third in the last two seasons that the Penguins will have their top three centres Crosby, former scoring champion Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal on the ice together.

No doubt the NHL is thrilled to get back its biggest attraction, a player who is only 24 yet one who already owns an MVP award, a scoring championship, a Stanley Cup victory and an Olympic gold medal.

"We're certainly going to enjoy No. 87 out there," Bylsma said.

Especially since there has been so much speculation and second guessing about when Crosby would play for the first time since Jan. 5, when a second hard hit in as many games resulted in the first concussion of his career.

The Penguins initially thought he would be back last season but Crosby never got close to doing so. He didn't practise again until March 31, and he was shut down for good in mid-April once concussion-related symptoms that included a sensitivity to bright light and loud noises, dizziness and fatigue returned.

Those symptoms persisted whenever he attempted to ratchet up his training regimen during the summer and, according to Crosby, they didn't disappear until shortly before training camp began Sept. 17.

Since then, the Penguins and Crosby's medical team have taken a slow, patient approach, trying to make sure that Crosby was symptom-free before he played again.

The Crosby-is-back speculation increased Nov. 7, when he refused to rule out playing later that week. Two days before, he unexpectedly left the Penguins in Los Angeles to return to Pittsburgh and meet with his doctors.

During the last two weeks, Crosby has declined to speak to reporters, another sign that his return appeared to be near.

Both Crosby and the Penguins insisted that no date or opponent was targeted once he was cleared by doctors, including his concussion specialists, he would return immediately.

His own teammates, at least publicly, kept insisting they had no idea when he would be back, saying they didn't want to pester him with questions about his health and playing status.

"Everybody knows how badly he wants to play," Penguins forward Matt Cooke said.

If Crosby had a bad practice in the two months, he was restricted to working out with his teammates, no one said so. He was frequently dazzling, showing off the moves, creativity and intensity that helped him accumulate 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games last season, putting him on pace for the highest-scoring season by an NHL player since Lemieux in 1995-96.

"We've seen him do some pretty crazy things, and we've seen him at a high pace," Bylsma said.

The Penguins, in a testament to their depth and resiliency, have gone 34-19-8 without Crosby the last two seasons. Even after losing to Tampa Bay and Florida on a two-game Florida road trip that ended Saturday, they are 11-6-3 and are tied with the Flyers for the Atlantic Division lead.

Now, the Penguins' goal is to be even better now that their signature star is back. Crosby was always certain he would be back shortly before training camp began he scoffed at rumours that the concussion threatened his career.

"We don't want to be in a situation where we just stand around and get caught up watching Sidney Crosby play," Bylsma said. "We have to engage and get to our game and be ready to play like our team can."

For now, Bylsma likely will reduce Crosby's playing time, cutting into his usual 20-plus minutes. According to his coach, Crosby will need some time to regain his game legs and get back to game speed.

Even if teammates such as James Neal and Steve Sullivan predict it won't take long.

"You get those guys in a game, they always want to go out one more shift," Bylsma said. "So we may have to tie him to the bench a bit."

What everyone across the NHL will be waiting to see is how Crosby absorbs hits, especially the first one that is levelled near his head. Brendan Shanahan, the new vice president for player safety, is intent on reducing the number of head shots, but even he knows they cannot be eliminated completely.

Since being cleared Oct. 13 for contact during practice, Crosby has absorbed some hitting during practice, but it has not approximated what occurs during a game.

Still, as Bylsma said, "He's a hard guy to hit. He's a hard guy to go after and hit hard. He's had a fair amount of that (hitting) and I know he's confident in those areas."

Bylsma initially plans on playing Crosby on a line with familiar linemates Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. But Crosby also has practised at times with Malkin and with James Neal, the Penguins' top goal scorer to date with 12 goals.

"Sometimes Game 1 is on adrenaline, and it takes a few games for players to get that timing back, the speed of the game," Bylsma said. "It's easy to see in practice that he's the best player on the ice with his speed and the way he plays the game. He'll bring that to the game (Monday)."

And, along with it, the hopes and expectations of a team, a city and also a league that hasn't quite been the same since Crosby was sidelined by shots from the Capitals' David Steckel on Jan. 1 and the Lightning's Victor Hedman on Jan. 5.

After Monday, Crosby will continue his comeback at home Wednesday against the Blues and Friday against the Senators. His first road game and his first back in his native Canada will be Saturday night in Montreal.

Bears Inactives: Khalil Mack, Allen Robinson active for Bears vs. Patriots

Bears Inactives: Khalil Mack, Allen Robinson active for Bears vs. Patriots

Bears fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Chicago will have two of its top injured play-makers back on the field to take on the New England Patriots.

The teams announced their inactives for the game, and both Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson were good to go.

Mack missed two days of practice this week with the ankle injury he suffered against the Miami Dolphins and was questionable for Week 7. He was able to participate on a limited basis on Friday, and evidently that was enough for him to give it a go at Soldier Field.

He likely won’t be at 100 percent, but he’ll have a more favorable matchup facing the Patriots’ backup right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Starter Marcus Cannon was ruled out this week with a concussion.

Robinson was also questionable with a groin injury that limited his week of practice. He was an unexpected addition to the injury report his week as his injury didn’t appear to affect him against the Dolphins,

He’s Mitchell Trubisky’s most-targeted receiver this season, and he'll be relied on against a New England defense that’s known for throwing a lot at young quarterbacks.

(Too) Bold Predictions: A big day for the Bears' running backs

(Too) Bold Predictions: A big day for the Bears' running backs

You've stumbled into (Too) Bold Predictions, a weekly column that is exactly what it sounds like! Here, we'll take nuanced, well-researched information and use to make wildly improbable predictions. Analysis! 

 

J.J. Stankevitz 

1. Jordan Howard will have his first 100-yard game of the year.
Hear me out: This happens if Bill Belichick’s strategy is to drop seven or even eight defenders into zone coverage, forcing Mitch Trubisky to make good decisions and fit passes into tight windows against a secondary that’s the strength of the Patriots’ defense. Or...Matt Nagy recognizes what’s in front of him and pounds the ball to Howard 15-20 times with plenty of success. Belichick, too, was extremely complimentary of Tarik Cohen on a conference call with Chicago media this week, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Cohen is the guy the future Hall of Fame coach tries to take away. Either way, it’s also worth noting here the Patriots allowed Kerryon Johnson to become the first Detroit Lions running back to have a 100-yard game since 2013 (!) in Week 2. And Howard still has shown flashes this year, like the 34 yards he gained on consecutive carries in overtime against Miami. 

 

2. Danny Trevathan or Roquan Smith will make a big play when it counts.
Given how good the rookie running back combo of Sony Michel (67 carries, 236 yards) and James White (23 receptions, 198 yards) has been recently, a lot of the Bears’ defensive success will hinge on the inside linebacking play of Trevathan and Smith. Trevathan has had an up-and-down year, playing outstanding ball in Weeks 2 and 4 but having some issues against the likes of David Johnson and Kenyan Drake/Frank Gore. Smith’s athleticism stands out but he’s still growing into Vic Fangio’s defense. Sunday will be a major test for both of them, and if the Bears are to win, it may come down to one of these two guys making a big-time play: A forced fumble, interception, run stuff on third down, etc. For the sake of a bold prediction, I’ll go with Smith making a play at the end of Sunday’s game that stands as the first big moment of the rookie’s pro career. 

 

Cam Ellis

1. Tarik Cohen's performance will garner the attention of national media 
Last Sunday night, Kansas City's Tyreek Hill had seven catches for 142 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged almost 21 yards per catch, thanks in part to a 75-yard touchdown score late in the 4th. The Patriots' defense clearly had no answer for Hill's speed. Now Cohen isn't a carbon copy of Hill, but he plays a similar role in the Bears' offense that Hill plays for the Chiefs. New England's linebackers lack and real speed -- especially on the outside -- which obviously bodes well for Cohen. Belichick is notoriously for creating game plans that take away the other team's best offensive players, but with the personell he has on defense, it's going to be tough to matchup with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, AND Cohen. The guess here is that Robinson and Gabriel have quiet games, but Cohen runs circles around the Pats. 

 

2. The Bears and Pats are tied heading into the 4th quarter
For a team with aspirations of an NFC North title (and more) this shouldn't be a bold prediction, and yet, it kinda feels like it? After a slow start to the season, the Patriots' offense have scored at least 38 points in each of the last three games. This Bears defense is the best they'll have played yet, so I don't expect them to get anywhere close to 38 today, especially with how the defense played last week in Miami. I think New England comes out of Chicago with a win, but the Bears will play them closer than people are predicting. A Cody Parkey-Stephen Gostkowski battle royale could be in play.