Sidney Crosby hasn't played since December 5, and has played in just eight games all season. But today he announced that he'd be returning to game action this Thursday, when the Penguins play their division-rival Rangers at the Garden. It's a pretty big game to return for: The Rangers have a game to play before then — tonight against Carolina — but as of this moment, New York leads Pittsburgh by four points in the Atlantic Division standings. It should go without saying that this is good for the NHL: Crosby is one of the premier players in the game, and while he may get booed every time he touches the puck on Thursday, it's a better league when he's active and not sidelined for long stretches with concussion-like symptoms. (In January, tests revealed a soft-tissue injury in the neck that could have been been causing his neurological symptoms.)
It's also, obviously, great news for the Penguins, who have looked pretty dominant of late even without Crosby: They've won nine straight games, and have gone 21-4-1 since January 13. There's reason to believe that if Crosby remains healthy, even after missing so much time, he'll be productive: In those eight games he played earlier this season, he scored twelve points. (He's actually scored more points per game than anyone in hockey this season, though, of course, he hasn't played in many games. In second place, by the way? Teammate Evgeni Malkin.) And for what it's worth, Crosby believes he's in better shape now than in which he played earlier this season. So yeah, the battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference just got even more interesting.