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Penguins, Neal are not talking extension yet

James Neal has scored a lot of goals early this NHL season, but Penguins general manager Ray Shero said there is no rush to begin talks about a contract extension.

Neal scored his team-best seventh goal, tied for the league lead, Thursday night for the Penguins in a 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens at Consol Energy Center. He could become a restricted free agent July 1 and will be eligible for salary arbitration, but the Penguins would retain his rights.

"We'll likely wait a little bit," Shero said of potential extension talks with Neal's agent, Pat Morris. "He has an agent I've dealt with well over the years. When the time comes, we'll get something done. There's no doubt in that."

Morris confirmed there have been no talks regarding Neal, whose current salary-cap hit is $2,875,000.

Last week, the Penguins extended the contract of left wing Chris Kunitz, retaining him for the next two seasons at his current annual cap hit ($3,725,000).

Neal, 24, was acquired Feb. 21 along with defenseman Matt Niskanen from Dallas in exchange for defenseman Alex Goligoski.

Neal struggled after joining the Penguins last season, scoring only once in the regular season and adding a playoff goal. However, he has flourished this season after switching from left to right wing and despite the Penguins playing six of nine games without top centers Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (right knee).

"Like any other player we've wanted to sign, we'll find a way to sign him," Shero said of Neal. "And we'll find a way with James as well."

> > Penguins center Dustin Jeffrey said he was close to returning to the lineup Thursday morning. Less than eight hours later, he backed up his words. Jeffrey, who hadn't played since tearing his ACL in March against the Flyers, returned to the lineup. The team's busy schedule has prevented Jeffrey from receiving much work in practice because, frankly, there hasn't been much time for practice. Jeffrey started on the fourth line with center Mark Letestu and right wing Craig Adams. With Jeffrey in the lineup, Left wing Steve MacIntyre was a healthy scratch.

> > Center Evgeni Malkin skated before the team's morning skate Thursday but is still suffering from knee soreness and did not play against Montreal.

> > Center Sidney Crosby skated again with the Penguins but remains uncertain when he will return to the lineup.

> > Right wing Tyler Kennedy has officially been diagnosed with a concussion by team doctors and did not play against Montreal.

> > Defenseman Brian Strait has a "hyper-extended elbow", according to coach Dan Bylsma, and is expected to miss at least two weeks.

> > Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill, who helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009, played in his 1,000th career NHL game Thursday night.

• General manager Ray Shero, Bylsma, center Jordan Staal, right wings James Neal, Arron Asham and Pascal Dupuis and defenseman Deryk Engelland delivered hot chocolate and pizza to fans waiting in last night's student rush line.

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