What’s next for Sidney Crosby?

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Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock for the last 72 hours (and if you have, congrats on getting out) you know that Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby made a triumphant return to the NHL last night, posting 2G-2A in a 5-0 win over the New York Islanders.

So, what comes next for No. 87?

Game load: The timing of Crosby’s return was interesting. The Pens had lost three of their last four (including two straight in Tampa Bay and Florida) and last night’s game against New York marked the start of a mini three-game homestand at Consol (the Pens have St. Louis on Wed. and Ottawa on Fri.)

This homestand allows Crosby to get a few games under his belt before Pittsburgh’s most compelling stretch of the season. Not to take anything away from the Isles, Blues and Senators, but they’ll act as a warmup to the main event.

From Nov. 26 to Dec. 8 the Penguins will take on Crosby’s boyhood team, the Canadiens, in Montreal, the Rangers at MSG, the Capitals at Verizon (for the latest installment of Sid the Kid vs. Ovi), head home to host the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins before finishing up with a Keystone State battle against the Flyers in Philly.

Time on Ice: Crosby played 21 shifts against the Islanders — seven in the first period, eight in the second, six in the third — but saw his TOI decrease as the game wore on (7:10 in the opening frame, 8:44 after that). Obviously this had to do with Pittsburgh holding a comfortable lead, but Crosby did say “I’m going to have to get ready to play a little more than that.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Dan Bylsma approaches the inevitable minutes increase. Prior to getting hurt last year, Crosby was averaging close to 22 a night.

Linemates: Crosby skated with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis last night, which was a huge boost for Dupuis — he finished with three assists, bumping his season point total to 17. (FYI: Dupuis is on pace for 66 points, which would be the highest total of his 12-year career.)

Gotta wonder if Kunitz sticks with Crosby, though. Pittsburgh acquired James Neal with an eye on eventually playing him alongside Crosby (outside of Marian Hossa, Neal is probably the most talented winger Pittsburgh’s had for Crosby.)

That said, Bylsma might be loathe to break up the Neal-Evgeni-Malkin-Steve Sullivan line that’s been good all season and combined for a pretty goal last night.

Update: Pierre McGuire and Jeremy Roenick analyze what’s ahead for Crosby.

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Also, here’s a breakdown of Crosby’s play in that dazzling debut.

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