Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby made his much-anticipated return to action for their Eastern Conference-quarterfinal clash against the New York Islanders on Friday, but the hockey world is arguably more abuzz about the protective gear he's wearing.
The 25-year-old center is coming back after missing more than a month after breaking his jaw. In order to protect himself from hits that could reinjure the jaw, Crosby is wearing a protective mask—one that encapsulates almost his entire face in protection.
The Penguins' Instagram account sent out the first picture of Crosby rocking the protective gear as he skated around the CONSOL Energy Center ice.
Prior to Friday night's contest, Pittsburgh head equipment manager Dana Heinze sent out a couple of closeup pictures of what to expect:
Crosby, who has been the Penguins' captain since 2007, was hurt in a March 30 game against these Islanders. While skating in the offensive zone, a shot deflected off the stick of teammate Brooks Orpik struck Crosby in the face.
He underwent surgery for a broken jaw and the team deemed him “out indefinitely”, according to ESPN. Crosby missed the remainder of the regular season, finishing the aborted 2013 campaign with 56 points, a total that put him in contention for the Hart Trophy prior to the injury.
The Penguins were able to keep the ship afloat during their star’s absence, capturing the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with ease. Their 36 regular-season wins were tied for the most in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks.
While they were still considered a Stanley Cup favorite, Crosby's return was looming over the entire Penguins franchise. Their 5-0 drubbing of the Islanders in Game 1 indicated a massive talent disparity, but the journey past Round 1 would prove difficult without a fully healthy Crosby.
Even with a bulky mask weighing him down, all signs are pointing in a positive direction for the superstar center. He scored two goals in the first period against New York, helping push the Penguins to an early Game 2 lead.
It’s unclear how this will work in the long term. But for Friday night, it seems masked Crosby will suit Pittsburgh just fine going forward.