Penguins notebook: Neal, Bennett end lengthy absences
ST. LOUIS — James Neal taking the ice for the Penguins was the real deal on Saturday night.
Neal returned against the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center. An upper-body injury, aggravated in the season opener on Oct. 3, had forced Neal to miss 15 consecutive games.
Neal, who resumed skating this week, said after a morning practice that he did not “have to show (coaches) anything.”
“If I'm ready, I'm ready,” Neal said, adding that he was as “close to game shape as possible.”
Neal credited his offseason training program — overseen by former Penguins player Gary Roberts — for building a “base” that allowed him to quickly regain his cardio conditioning after only a week of on-ice workouts.
The return of Neal overshadowed forward Beau Bennett's comeback.
Bennett had missed 11 consecutive games because of a lower-body injury.
Neal and Bennett were removed from the injured reserve list, leaving the Penguins with only three players of that designation.
Goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) has not played this season and is out at least through December and possibly three additional months.
Defenseman Rob Scuderi (broken ankle) and winger Chuck Kobasew (broken foot) are out for at least several more weeks.
Three's no crowd
Defenseman Paul Martin did not play against St. Louis, though coach Dan Bylsma offered no injury-related reason for the absence.
Martin did not practice Friday because of a maintenance day — a term the Penguins often use to explain absences for nagging injuries or ones not fully diagnosed by club physicians.
Only three Penguins defensemen — veterans Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen and rookie Olli Maatta — have played in all 17 games. Martin had not missed a game before Saturday night.
Martin's absence forced Deryk Engelland to play at his natural position because the Penguins carried only six healthy defensemen.
Engelland had played eight contests as a checking-line forward.