Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby joined the team for a morning skate ahead of Saturday's preseason finale against the Columbus Blue Jackets as he continues his recovery from wrist surgery on Sept. 8.
It marked the first time Crosby joined his teammates on the ice after previously skating before practices throughout training camp.
Pens head coach Mike Sullivan said he still doesn't expect the two-time Hart Trophy winner to play in road games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday and Florida Panthers on Thursday to open the regular season, but he expects the 34-year-old center to take the trip.
"He is on schedule. And it does indicate progress," Sullivan told reporters. "That's obviously his first practice joining the group. I would anticipate more of that moving forward. We're real encouraged by the progress that he's made to this point. He's in terrific shape."
The Penguins' initial announcement stated Crosby, who scored 62 points in 55 games last season, was expected to miss "at least" six weeks to recover, which would put him on track to return around Oct. 20.
Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall said the NHL's longtime gold standard has dealt with the injury for a long time and the organization hoped an offseason of rest could help rectify the issue, but it became clear surgery was the best short- and long-term option.
"At some point, you ramp things up along the way," Hextall said. "The conclusion we came to was this procedure was the best way to proceed."
He added: "We all, including Sid, wish we had known this a month or two months ago. That would be great, but we are where we are."
The Penguins are also set to open the 2021-22 campaign without fellow star Evgeni Malkin, who's expected to miss the first two months of the season after June knee surgery.
Their absences will leave a major void in the middle of the ice for Pittsburgh.
Jeff Carter figures to center the top line, while Evan Rodrigues should see his most expansive role since joining the Pens in February 2020. Rodrigues did see some top-six minutes during his previous stint with the Buffalo Sabres, though he's never scored more than nine goals in a season.
After the Penguins return from Florida, they embark on an eight-game homestand. Crosby should return at some point during that stretch barring any setbacks.