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Penguins' Staal breaks hand in 'freak' incident

Practice began for the Penguins on Monday with coach Dan Bylsma sharing with players some encouraging words.

Told that center Jordan Staal would play Wednesday night at Dallas, the players tapped their stick blades on the ice at Southpointe Iceoplex.

About 25 minutes later, at precisely 11:44 a.m., a frustrated Staal skated from the surface favoring his right hand — the gloved version of which a puck had caught during an otherwise innocent-looking drill.

"I was at practice, just watching from the stands. Got a text message from (trainer Chris Stewart) and, by the time I went down to the (dressing) room, Jordan had already left," general manager Ray Shero said. "It's a freak injury. You don't expect it. I'm sure it will take a few days to set in."

It could take Staal six weeks to recover from his fractured right hand. He is slated for surgery today by orthopedic hand specialist Dr. Glenn Buterbaugh.

Staal was unavailable for comment. Privately, several teammates expressed dismay at his latest injury — more for him than for the Penguins, who are 6-5-1 and coming off an impressive, 3-0 victory Saturday at Carolina.

Staal's return was to close the book on a trying five months. A tendon in his right foot was severed April 30 during a collision with Montreal defenseman PK Subban, but after surgery the next day Staal missed only Games 2 and 3 of the second-round playoff series.

An infection developed after the Penguins lost that series, and Staal required surgery in mid-June. The infection returned, and he required a second surgery in early August.

Before that, he had never missed an NHL game because of injury.

"I told (Stewart) today, 'We didn't talk about him for four years.' I'm talking never," Shero said. "He played through a lot of things. You took it for granted because he was a constant."

Shero said nobody in the NHL community "will care" about his beleaguered-by-injuries squad. The Penguins have missed 37 man-games because of injuries, and right wing Evgeni Malkin (undisclosed), and defensemen Kris Letang (hand) and Alex Goligoski (rest) did not practice yesterday.

The game at Dallas, the second of four straight on the road, was to feature the returns of Staal and defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who has missed the past nine contests with a right shoulder sprain. Staal will remain on the long-term injury list, meaning his $4 million salary-cap hit will continue not to count.

Before learning of Staal's diagnosis, Bylsma said recalling prospects — left wing Eric Tangradi and defenseman Andrew Hutchinson are candidates — was a possibility before the Penguins left for Dallas. He'll also ask players to stick with a simple game — clean dumps, a fierce forecheck, quick passes and shots — that worked at Carolina.

One bright spot after practice was a consensus among the players that keeping things simple makes the most sense.

"When you have the skill we have and work the way we worked in Carolina, you see the good results," defenseman Paul Martin said. "When you're doing it right, it works."

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