Share This Page

Neal's concussion shuffles Penguins' top line

| Monday, April 8, 2013, 2:15 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Rangers' Michael Del Zotto elbows the Penguins James Neal in the third period on Friday, April 5, 2013, at Consol Enrgy Center.

Evgeni Malkin hadn't seen James Neal since the Penguins winger suffered a concussion on a third-period power play Friday against the New York Rangers.

“I hope he comes back soon, before the playoffs,” Malkin said. “I miss him.”

Just as Malkin was getting accustomed to playing with Jarome Iginla on his right wing, he will have to adjust to another new linemate when he looks left.

And this one has more goals and points than Neal.

Malkin centered Iginla and 20-goal scorer Chris Kunitz on Monday at Southpointe. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he plans to use that as a first line during their three-game road trip.

“We immediately had some comfort level putting Chris on that line with Geno,” Bylsma said. “That's what we'll definitely be seeing going forward, starting in Carolina.”

The Penguins confirmed Neal has a concussion from the hit he absorbed from Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto, and he will not travel with the team.

Bylsma said Neal is “feeling a lot better, feeling pretty good,” but called his status day to day. His absence leaves the Penguins without the NHL's top scorer in Crosby (broken jaw) and No. 8 goal scorer, Neal, who has 18.

“There's definitely a void on the ice and in the locker room,” Kunitz said of Neal. “He's a guy that comes around and will chirp guys and make the room kind of light. His ability to create space for himself and shoot the puck is something that this team hasn't had in a while, a guy who can get open and has really clicked with Geno. So there's going to be maybe a little bit of a learning curve, but we'll have to fight through it.”

Malkin said Kunitz has an “unbelievable shot” and expects them to move the puck and work well together.

“He's smart. He knows what's going on on the ice,” Malkin said. “You just give him the puck and let him shoot and score.”

On the power play, Bylsma said the Penguins will use Jussi Jokinen in Neal's spot as the shooter. Otherwise, the unit will stay the same: Kunitz will be at the front of the net with Iginla and defenseman Matt Niskanen at the point and Malkin along the half-wall.

The second power play will feature forwards Beau Bennett, Tyler Kennedy and Brenden Morrow, with either winger Pascal Dupuis and a defenseman such as Mark Eaton or a two-defense pairing, depending on how much time is left in the game.

The key will be how Malkin adapts to playing without Neal, with whom he's had great chemistry.

“He's obviously a world-class, top player,” Iginla said of Malkin. “No matter what, whoever you play with, you have tendencies. We all go to different spots and do different things that we all get used to, so I think it does take a little bit of time, no matter who you're playing with, just to get comfortable and get used to knowing that this guy will be here without having to look over all the time because it's a pretty quick game. The more it can become second nature, every day feels better and better.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.