Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Indefinite Timetable for Neal's Return Concussion Keeps Forward Sidelined

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Indefinite Timetable for Neal's Return Concussion Keeps Forward Sidelined

Article excerpt

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin said Monday he hopes regular linemate James Neal comes back soon from a concussion so things can get back to normal before the playoffs arrive.

"I miss him," Malkin said of Neal.

It's unclear what normal might look like for the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins as they head into their final nine regular-season games and the postseason, because some of their top players seem to be stuck in a revolving door leading to the trainers' room.

Coach Dan Bylsma announced the news about Neal's concussion, something that was feared from the moment Neal took an elbow to the head from New York's Michael Del Zotto in the win Friday against the Rangers. Neal appeared disoriented and wobbly as he left the game and is out indefinitely.

On the same day Neal's situation was disclosed, defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice. He had been skating on his own while recovering from a toe injury he got March 26 in a game against Montreal.

NHL leading scorer Sidney Crosby remains out for an undetermined amount of time after jaw surgery, and defenseman Paul Martin is out another three to five weeks because of hand surgery.

Neal, Crosby and Martin did not accompany the club as it left for a three-game road trip that begins tonight at Carolina.

Letang traveled but it's not known when he will play. He said he felt "pretty good ... I'm excited to be back practicing with the boys," but as far as returning to the lineup, "It's going to be up to the trainers and up to the coach."

Letang, who has 28 points in 28 games, has led NHL defensemen in scoring at times this season. He has been considered a leading candidate for the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman, though that might be hurt by the five games he has missed because of the toe injury and three he missed because of what was believed to be a groin problem.

Still, the Penguins are purposely bringing Letang along slowly.

"I'd put him at day to day," Bylsma said. "We've waited and taken more time with Kris. Hopefully, we progress, with seeing how it goes with this practice [Monday] and [today] and then go from there."

That approach doesn't bother Letang as long as things don't drag out too long. …

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