Can Pittsburgh Penguins Survive if James Neal, Kris Letang Aren't Back for Postseason?

By Casey Drottar
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The hits just keep coming for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Already dealing with more than a few injuries, the team found out today they’ve lost forward James Neal for the foreseeable future due to a concussion. Neal appeared to be shaken up during Tuesday’s game against the Washington Capitals, and his return time is questionable, as is the case with concussions. It’s his second concussion in two seasons, as he missed eight games last year as well.

Losing players due to injuries is nothing the Penguins aren’t used to this season, though I doubt it’s something they’re bragging about. The team already lost Paul Martin to a broken hand, Pascal Dupuis to an ACL tear and Kris Letang to a stroke. Dupuis is out for the year, and due to the severity of Letang’s ailment, it’s hard to get a good idea of when he’ll be returning.

The loss of Neal definitely hurts, though. He’s an incredibly talented player, and has played very well alongside superstar Sidney Crosby. Despite only playing 44 games so far this season, he’s fourth on the team in points (49) and third in goals (22). Due to the fact that this is his second straight season with a concussion, the Penguins will definitely need to monitor his health closely.

Will Pittsburgh be able to survive their ever-growing injured reserve? Well, obviously they’ll always be dangerous if Crosby is on the ice. They also still have Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin, so their depth in talent will help them stay afloat.

The Penguins making the playoffs at this point is inevitable, but will these setbacks affect their overall performance once they get there? Dupuis, Neal and Letang all made solid contributions for Pittsburgh last postseason, and their absence would definitely be felt this year. While Dupuis won’t be around come playoffs, we’re still not sure about Neal or Letang. If either were to return before the postseason, who’s to say they’ll be able to play at the same level we’re used to seeing from them? We’ve seen more than a few players endure a decline after suffering multiple concussions. The possibility of Letang’s return is still a huge question mark as well, but it would be hard to imagine him being 100% if he did make it back this season.

As mentioned, the Penguins still have a good amount of top-line talent, so it’d be foolish to count them out. At the same time, the list of walking wounded is only getting longer. Again, there’s no doubt Pittsburgh makes the playoffs. If Neal or Letang aren’t back in time for the postseason, though, then things could get really interesting.

Casey Drottar is an NHL writer for Follow him on Twitter @CDrottar19 or “Like” him on Facebook

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