Originally written on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 5/7/14

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 15: Matt Cooke #24 of the Pittsburgh Penguins congratulates Sidney Crosby #87 on his power play goal at 3:20 of the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Mellon Arena on December 15, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

On Thursday morning, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby stepped onto the ice wearing something different. Actually, not different, more like the same. Crosby was wearing the same helmet as the rest of his teammates indicating he was cleared for contact.
This news trumped the majority of the team's updates. Marc-Andre Fleury didn't participate due to the flu but the media failed to even see that until an hour after practice subsided. Whether he plays, or doesn't play, Crosby is the main attaction in Pittsburgh.
As of this writing, Crosby has missed 47 regular season contests, as well as seven playoff games, and he could not come back any sooner. Even though numerous players on the Penguins have stepped up in the room, the truth is there is only one leader of this team and one phenom for the NHL.
Due to savvy coaching from current Jack Adams Award winner Dan Blysma, the Pens sit atop the Atlantic Division despite injuries to Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Brooks Orpik. One could argue the disparity in games played -- the team leads the League in games played with six -- but their success is more indicative of their depth and team play.
When Crosby does return it will vault the Pens from playoff contender to Stanley Cup contender. He is not just an elite player -- he defines elite.
Last season, he scored 32 goals and 66 points through only 41 games (which indluded a 25-game point streak), leading the NHL by a hefty margin prior to going down. With Crosby in the lineup, the Pens went 26-12-3, without him they were 21-11-9. One could only imagine some of those OTL would turn into wins with their best player dressed.
Without Crosby, Evgeni Malkin was expected to step into the top line role, leading the team offensively. Thus far he has missed three of the last four games. While Jordan Staal continues to step up and veterans Craig Adams, Pascal Dupuis, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek are vocal in the locker room, there remains only one true captain of the team.
The same thing can be said as far as the "face of the NHL" is concerned. Only a few players can mirror the dominance Sid shows on the ice and the same facial recognition as Crosby off the ice. Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos and the Sedins are certainly elite players, but how many casual hockey fans could pick them out of a lineup?
Perhaps the biggest storyline when he gets back into the lineup is the renewed rivalry with Alex Ovechkin. Thursday's tilt between the Pens and the Washington Capitals simply was not the same. Malkin, while still highly skilled, played through injury with the biggest controversy coming over a knock out by Arron Asham.
The game will get it's best player back and the season's entire outlook will change. Crosby vs. Ovechkin will come back stronger than ever. Furthermore, any divisional rivalries will be reinforced as Philly fans clearly showed with their boos during his anti-cancer commerical.
In short, it will be the best thing to happen to the league since, well, Crosby.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

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