Updates from Tuesday, March 18
The Penguins provide statements from head coach Dan Bylsma and James Neal discussing the star's injury status:
Neal: I still need to be cleared to play. That's the next step. I felt good today and all day yesterday. Moving in right direction #Pens— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 18, 2014
Per coach Bylsma: “Lineup will be a game time decision. Neal & Kunitz need to be cleared by doctors to play tonight. Zatkoff will be in net"— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 18, 2014
Later in the evening the Penguins provided tonight's lines against the Dallas Stars, which included Neal:
Tonight's #Pens lines: Kunitz-Crosby-Stempniak, Jokinen-Malkin-Neal, Glass-Goc-Vitale, Gibbons-Sutter-Adams.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 18, 2014
Updates from Monday, March 17
James Neal updated his status as he tries to recover from a concussion (via the Penguins):
James Neal: I feel good. Had no issues today. Had a good practice. #Pens— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 17, 2014
Neal: As long as I'm good all day today (and) if I feel good in the morning, there's no reason why I can't (play Tuesday vs. Dallas). #Pens— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 17, 2014
The Pittsburgh Penguins are currently battling for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and the task isn't getting any easier now that the injury bug has bitten star winger James Neal.
According to the Pens' official Twitter account, Neal is out indefinitely with a concussion:
James Neal saw the doctor Thursday afternoon and has been diagnosed with a concussion, per #Pens coach Bylsma. Out of the lineup now.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 14, 2014
Neal played in the Penguins' most recent game, which was a 2-0 win over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, but his status has been in question ever since. Per Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Neal missed practice on Thursday.
Per Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Neal's symptoms initially appeared on Thursday as well:
James Neal didn't feel right on Thursday. Was diagnosed with concussion later in day. Out indefinitely.— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) March 14, 2014
Which injured Penguin is most vital to the team's success this season?
Injuries have hampered Neal in a major way over the past couple seasons. Neal missed over a month with an upper-body injury earlier this season, and even more importantly he was concussed late last season.
When Neal is on the ice, he is one of the most productive forwards in hockey. He has 49 points in 44 points during the current campaign, and he netted 40 goals back in 2011-12.
While Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are the backbone of Pittsburgh's attack, they need supporting players in order to take that next step. Unfortunately, many of those supporting players are on the shelf.
Winger Chris Kunitz is also ailing with an apparent leg injury, according to Molinari, while forward Pascal Dupuis and defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin are all out on a long-term basis, per TSN.
As much as Neal's injury hurts the Penguins, it benefits their upcoming opponents on Saturday in the form of the Philadelphia Flyers, according to Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post:
James Neal out indefinitely with a concussion. Injuries haven’t seemed to stop the Pens much this year, but that’s a bullet dodged by Flyers— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) March 14, 2014
The Penguins have a huge lead in the Metropolitan Division and are unlikely to squander it, but overtaking the Boston Bruins for the top seed in the Eastern Conference won't be easy if Neal is forced to sit for a significant period of time.
Boston has 93 points to Pittsburgh's 92, although the Pens have a game in hand. It's important for the Penguins to play it safe with Neal because of his concussion history, but also because he will be an absolute necessity come playoff time.
If the Pens don't get Neal back by then, winning the Stanley Cup may be a pipe dream even with elite players like Crosby and Malkin leading the way.
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