As if the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t had enough misfortune with injuries this year, James Neal has been diagnosed with a concussion and is reportedly out indefinitely. The injury most likely occurred when he slid into the net on Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals.
The C-word hasn’t been kind to the Penguins in the last few years. They have kept Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out for a substantial amount of time, and now it’s Neal who has succumbed to the head injury.
Neal is currently fourth on the team with 49 points, and the combination of Malkin, Jussi Jokinen and Neal has been the only consistent stream of offense for the Penguins since Pascal Dupuis‘ ACL injury in December.
It’s not a secret that the NHL has been taking a different approach to head injuries, which is certainly a good thing in the long run, but the added tests also make it impossible to predict the timetable for Neal’s return. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he only missed a game or two, but if the symptoms continue to persist, Neal could be absent for the rest of the season. The unpredictability factor is what makes concussions so difficult to handle.
It’s absolutely incredible that the Penguins have continued to lead the Metropolitan division after sustaining so many injuries. Some of the notable ones this season include a stroke, a blood clot, an elbow infection, five broken bones, three torn ligaments and now two concussions.
A lot of the credit has to go to head coach Dan Bylsma, who hasn’t allowed the injuries to be an excuse for poor play. It’ll be interesting to see how the lines are organized now with Neal’s absence. More than likely it will be utility forward Brian Gibbons who joins Malkin and Jokinen on the second line as he has spent part of the year playing with Crosby and Chris Kunitz before Lee Stempniak was acquired.
Playing without Neal will be a difficult challenge for the Penguins, but it’s a problem they’ve faced and handled quite well all season long.