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Penguins notebook: Martin, Neal could return soon

| Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 5:21 p.m.

The Penguins are finally getting healthy.

Defenseman Paul Martin, right wing James Neal, right wing Jayson Megna and right wing Chuck Kobasew all returned to practice Saturday at Consol Energy Center.

Although coach Dan Bylsma did not reveal medical specifics, all could be returning to the lineup in a matter of days.

Martin, who broke his leg in November, is hungry to return and said playing a few games before the Olympics begin in February is also on his mind.

“I felt good, actually,” Martin said. “My timing was a little off, but as far as being out there, I felt great. I'd like to play Monday (against Florida), but I want to get a couple of practices under my belt, and see how it feels Sunday, and go from there.”

Neal missed the Penguins' game Wednesday against Washington after suffering an upper-body injury during the team's recent road trip to Canada.

He sounds like a good bet to play against Florida on Monday.

Neal participated for the entire practice Saturday, showing no problems.

“I feel good now,” Neal said. “And I've got a good couple of practice days here to get ready for Monday (against Florida).”

Kobasew (lower-body injury) also practiced with the Penguins on Saturday and reported feeling healthy following the workout.

Mega-jump to top line

Megna has been out of the lineup for almost five weeks because of an injury suffered against Toronto, when goaltender Jonathan Bernier collided with Megna near the Maple Leafs blue line. However, Megna not only returned to practice Monday, he found himself on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.

Bylsma loves Megna's speed.

“If I didn't before practice today,” Bylsma said, “the speed that he played with in practice today was evident right from the start.”

Megna said he didn't want to speculate about when he would return to the lineup but feels like he could play this week.

Rough practice

The Penguins, in the midst of the lightest portion of their schedule, were given days off Thursday and Friday. There was no such thing on Saturday, as the Penguins labored through their longest, most grueling practice of the season.

Practice lasted approximately 90 minutes and couldn't end until a goal was scored in an impromptu scrimmage. It started as a five-on-five contest, then four-on-four, then three-on-three. Still, no one had scored. Finally, during a two-on-two portion of the scrimmage, Sidney Crosby set up Neal for a goal that ended practice, much to the delight of the players.

Bylsma on Despres

Bylsma acknowledged that defenseman Simon Despres was sent back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton partially because he didn't need to clear waivers. The Penguins, though, are still looking for more consistency from the former first-round draft pick.

“If he was in the top six, it would not be an issue,” said Bylsma, who noted that Despres did play “probably his best stretch of hockey” during the past two months. “There's competition. There are eight (defensemen), nine with Simon. That would leave three out of the lineup. It's not a situation we're going to have Simon in at this time.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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