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Sidney Crosby prepares to take a face off during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers in Pittsburgh on Nov. 2, 2019.

Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press

Sidney Crosby is back.

The Pittsburgh Penguins captain will be in the lineup on Tuesday night when Pittsburgh faces Minnesota. Crosby hasn’t played since undergoing abdominal surgery on Nov. 14. The Penguins have thrived in spite of the extended absence of the three-time Stanley Cup winner. Pittsburgh is 18-6-4 since Crosby’s last appearance on Nov. 9, tied for the second-best mark in the league during that span.

“I don’t think it’s ever easy to be patient when you’re watching,” Crosby said. “I mean you want to play. But like I said, it’s been great to see (the results) and we’ve got to continue to do the same thing.”

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Crosby had been dealing with a core injury before aggravating it against Chicago on Nov. 9. He had five goals and 12 assists in 17 games with Pittsburgh before going on injured reserve. The 28 games he missed was his longest absence since he was limited to 22 games during the 2011-12 season while dealing with concussion-like symptoms.

The team initially estimated Crosby would miss at least six weeks. When he pulls on his familiar No. 87 sweater Tuesday night, it will be nearly nine weeks since his surgery.

“It’s a slow process,” said Crosby, adding “Guys who have been injured, and we have a lot of them this year, know what that’s like, you’re just happy to get back.”

Injuries have decimated the Penguins from the beginning of the season. The list of high-profile players who have missed extended time include Crosby, centre Evgeni Malkin, All-Star defenceman Kris Letang, All-Star forward Jake Guentzel, defenceman Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin and centre Nick Bjugstad.

Yet Pittsburgh has kept right on rolling despite the steady stream of high-profile players to the injured reserve. The Penguins head into Tuesday night 7-1-1 in their last nine games to rise to second place behind Washington in the competitive Metropolitan Division. The team has done it by taking a more responsible defensive approach. The Penguins are seventh in the league in goals against after finishing 14th in the category a year ago, when they were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Islanders.

“I think the way this team has bought in to playing on both sides of the puck has certainly given us a lot of evidence that if we play the game a certain way we’re a pretty competitive team. We can play against anyone regardless of who is in the lineup,” Sullivan said.

For the first time in more than two months, that lineup will include Crosby, who will likely be paired with Jared McCann and Dominik Simon. Crosby isn’t concerned about his return disrupting the identity the club has forged while watching from the press box.

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“I don’t like to get too fancy out there. So I like to think the work ethic and the simple things, the things that have made us successful, I don’t intend on changing that,” Crosby said. “I just want to come in and hopefully bring some energy and make sure I’m doing my part.”

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