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Neal out indefinitely with a concussion

| Friday, March 14, 2014, 12:45 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' James Neal plays against the Sharks, on Dec. 5, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

It's happening again.

The Penguins haven't just been struck with numerous injuries in recent seasons, but in reality, they have been forced to play significant chunks of seasons without their best players.

Right wing James Neal is the latest Penguins standout to sustain an injury. Coach Dan Bylsma announced Friday that Neal is out with a concussion, and it isn't known when he will return.

“It's been a tough year for him,” left wing Jussi Jokinen said. “It will be tough without him.”

The Penguins recalled winger Jayson Megna from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday to fill the void. Megna played on a line with Evgeni Malkin earlier in the season.

It's been a tough year for the Penguins, who lead the league in man-games lost for a second time in three seasons. This season, the race in that dubious category isn't even close.

Entering Saturday afternoon's game against the Flyers, the Penguins have lost 391 man-games because of injury, 105 more than second-place Detroit. As in many recent seasons, the Penguins have been forced to play without some of their best players.

Malkin (ankle injury), Neal (upper-body injury, suspension), Paul Martin (broken leg, broken hand), Kris Letang (knee injury, elbow infection, stroke), Brooks Orpik (concussion), Pascal Dupuis (torn ACL), Beau Bennett (broken wrist), Tanner Glass (broken hand), Joe Vitale (wrist), Rob Scuderi (broken ankle) and Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) all have missed portions of the season.

The latest injury comes as a surprise, as Neal did not appear to injure himself Tuesday against the Capitals. However, he didn't feel right two days later.

“(Thursday) when he came in after the day off, he said he was not feeling normal,” Bylsma said. “Then he went to the doctor yesterday right after practice.”

Neal, the fourth-leading scorer on the team with 22 goals and 27 assists, immediately was diagnosed with a concussion, his second in the past 12 months.

“You don't know if you're talking about one day, two days, or much longer,” Bylsma said. “You hope the symptoms subside and that it's shorter rather than longer.”

Neal's injury comes less than five weeks before the playoffs are set to begin, which casts a parallel to last season.

The Penguins entered the 2013 postseason with four new faces — Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Jokinen and Douglas Murray — and with injuries to Neal, Martin and Sidney Crosby, it was difficult for any chemistry to develop.

One year later, Neal is joined by Letang, Bennett and Martin in street clothes while new players Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc still are getting acclimated.

Certain ideas that Bylsma has entertained, such as giving Jokinen a look on the third line with Brandon Sutter, might be impossible now because of Neal's injury. The Penguins feel obligated to leave Jokinen, who has 17 goals, on Malkin's line.

“Maybe you'll see me going to the spots where Nealer would normally go,” Jokinen said. “He's great at finding the soft spot in other team's defenses. I'll be trying to do some of that, so (Malkin) has a target. But it won't be easy replacing someone like Nealer. He's a great player.”

Nothing has been easy for the Penguins this season. They remain within three points of the NHL's best record despite all the injuries.

That said, they remain a far more potent team with the likes of Neal in the lineup.

“Obviously, he's a very big part of this team,” Vitale said. “You don't really replace someone like him. But I think all of the lines need to be good right now, chip in some offense. It's a big loss.”

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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