[UPDATE] Neal will play on the fourth line vs. St. Louis.
Pittsburgh Penguins forward James Neal (lower-body) is expected to play sometime during the coming week.
Neal has been out of action with a lower-body injury since the Penguins season opener. He was a game-time decision for that contest but he decided to play – which in hindsight was probably a bad idea. Neal played just 3:49 before heading to the locker room and missing the next 15 games.
Neal’s spot on the second line next to Evgeni Malkin has been a revolving door in his absence. Jussi Jokinen has played well on Malkin’s left side but the right side has seen multiple faces come and go through the first month and a week of the season.
Neal has been practicing with the Penguins in recent days but has already been ruled out for Saturday’s matchup with the St. Louis Blues. He will likely re-join the lineup on the Penguins short home-stand next week – either Wednesday vs. Philadelphia or Friday against Nashville.
According to Penguins beat reporter Shelly Anderson, Neal has looked good in practice and is flying around the ice.
“Having James on the ice, even in small quantities, there was a lot of jump in a lot of guys’ step seeing James out there,” said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma about Neal being present at practice.
The 26-year-old has spent just under two and a half seasons in Pittsburgh after being traded by Dallas in 2010-11. Neal has 62 goals and 61 assists (123 points) in 140 games with Pittsburgh. In his first full season with the Penguins he scored 40 goals and had 41 assists in 80 games. He was also on pace for just under 40 goals in the lockout shortened season.
Neal’s return should spark both the Penguins lineup and your fantasy lineup for those who have been waiting for his return. If Neal can stay healthy in the remaining 66 or 65 games, he could very well score 30 goals and add 30 assists. His return should also ignite Malkin’s play as well. Malkin has three goals and 11 assists in 16 games.