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James Neal Injury: Updates on Penguins Star's Concussion and Return

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 27:  James Neal #18 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Montreal Canadiens on February 27, 2014 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2014

Updates from Tuesday, March 18

The Penguins provide statements from head coach Dan Bylsma and James Neal discussing the star's injury status:

Later in the evening the Penguins provided tonight's lines against the Dallas Stars, which included Neal:

Updates from Monday, March 17

James Neal updated his status as he tries to recover from a concussion (via the Penguins):

Original Text

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:

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:

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:

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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