Shelly Anderson: Well, it's beyond safe to say at this point that James Neal is a scoring winger in the mold the Penguins have wanted for some time. If Ray Shero can get Neal wrapped up before the end of the season, he should. Neal, as a pending restricted free agent, doesn't have leverage he would as an unrestricted free agent, and the Penguins don't have a track record of going to arbitration, so the guess is that something will get done. When is more up in the air.
Kipa: This has been going on for a few games now, but were you surprised Dan Bylsma broke up the Neal-Malkin-Sullivan line by putting Kunitz there instead of Sullivan, or do you think that was out of necessity with Crosby's setback?
Shelly Anderson: Dan Bylsma loves to experiement with line and pairings chemistry. Steve Sullivan has been on the fourth line with Matt Cooke and Joe Vitale, with Chris Kunitz on the top line wit Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. Jordan Staal has centered what without Sidney Crosby is the second line with Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy. I have no problem with those combinations. We'll have to see, though, how things will change if the undisclosed injury sustained Saturday by Dupuis leads to any sort of shakeup.
Tom: Does Shero need to take active measures to secure another scorer at the trade deadline considering the inability of the Pens toe score against the elite teams of the conference. Cannot count on Crosby to return and after only lasting eight games before being sidelined with concussion related symptoms, cannot expect him to remain on the ice for very long either. Is Niskanen the logical candidate to go due to his contract status?
Shelly Anderson: We've got some weeks before the trade deadline, so monitoring the Penguins' health might be prudent. I'm thinking you're not going to get a winger better than James Neal and Chris Kunitz have been for Matt Niskanen.
Kipa: I remember stories about Letang suffering from migraines. How might that affect his recovery from a concussion? Is there anything to say what differentiates between concussion symptoms and those migraine ones?
Shelly Anderson: Kris Letang, who is out because of a concussion, has endured migraines for years. He has not elaborated publicly on his symptoms, so it's impossible to say whether they could be confused with migraines. Certainly, you would think Letang is familiar enough with the migraines to know what those are like and to know if he is having other symptoms, and you would think his medical team is looking into that. However, it's my understanding that he does not have migraines constantly, so persistent symptoms would indicate something other than that is going on.
Rob: Pierre McGuire said on TSN radio a couple weeks ago that based on their workout schedules and talking to the players he expected Crosby and Letang back around the new year. Renaud Lavoie tweeted today that Letang hasn't even hit the gym yet. Nick Kypreos said on sportsnet that he wouldn't be surprised if Crosby is done for the season. There have been "sources within the penguins organization" that believe Crosby and Letang will both be back this season. What's really going on with those two?
Shelly Anderson: You know what they say -- opinions are like pieholes; everyone's got one. The problem is, as long as Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang have concussion symptoms, no one can say for certain how long he will be out. We know that as of last week, Crosby still had symptoms and reading between the lines, it's pretty clear Letang does, too. I sure wish I could accurately predict the future and tell you how their recoveries will advance and when they will play again.
Pretty in Pink: Hi Shelley. Are you able to provide a precis of the Penguins current injuries and anticipated return dates (excluding Crosby & Kennedy where we know there is no timetable due to the concussion type injuries these two have)?
Shelly Anderson: Sure. Defenseman Paul Martin has an unspecified injury believed to involve a leg -- he got it on an awkward collision with Ottawa's Chris Phillips that sent him sprawling. He returned to practice today and, if all goes well, could return Friday against the Rangers. Forward Richard Park is coming off of a broken right foot. He is practicing and also could return Friday. Forwards Arron Asham (shot to the left knee) and Pascal Dupuis (undisclosed problem) were hurt Saturday at New Jersey. Neither practiced today, but coach Dan Bylsma listed them as day-to-day. Forward Dustin Jeffrey (knee) and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (concussion) are skating in full gear and could return to practice this week. I'll go ahead and mention Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, who are out indefinitely because of concussions. I'm assuming you meant Letang, not Tyler Kennedy. As far as I know, Kennedy is healthy. then again, it's been a couple of hours since I've seen him, and the way injuries haunt this team, you never know.
Pretty in Pink: Shelley, given last year and so far this year have the Penguins just been unlucky with injuries or is there something in their conditioning/physical preparation which could be improved or changed to lessen the problem? All teams have injuries but this team seem to always be under the cosh with injuries. Have other teams suffered as badly over the last season and a half?
Shelly Anderson: I know Buffalo has been hit hard, but the NHL doesn't track man-games lost, or at least it doesn't make them public for comparison. Other than concussions, which have been diagnosed across the NHL, I don't see a trend that would suggest that the team is doing anything wrong. Perhaps more players who are prone to block shots could wear protective outerwear over their skates, but then again Asham got hurt by a shot to the knee.
Guest: Is there concern about many goals being scored high glove on 29, who has been brilliant otherwise?
Shelly Anderson: That's the book on a lot of goalies -- lift the puck. And the Penguins have scored their share of goals that way. But we've also seen Marc-Andre Fleury make some good glove saves. I don't know exactly what goaltending coach Gilles Meloche works on with Fleury and Brent Johnson, but I would imagine that's something all goalie coaches look at.
Guy: Any word on Kris Letang's status?
Shelly Anderson: It's been well more than a month since Letang got leveled by Montreal's Max Pacioertty. Since his diagnosis of a concussion a few days later, the only update came last week, when coach Dan Bylsma said Letang was feeling a little better. He's around but not doing interviews. I see no signs that his return is imminent.
Guy: It seems the penguins have struggled against the top teams in the NHL over the past month or so (save their win against the blackhawks). Is that an indication that they are just not as good as these teams, or is it too early to make that assessment?
Shelly Anderson: The Penguins had more success early in the season against some Western Conference clubs, but they have struggled to beat the best teams in the East. Those are the teams they will have to face and get past to advance in the playoffs. There's little question things might be different with Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang in the lineup. They are still gathering a decent number of points, but they will need to show they can be competitive with everyone.
Rob: We've been told Crosby is doing light off ice exercises. Has he done any skating on his own or is that still the next step? As far as I know we haven't explicitly been told that Letang is even exercising off ice. Do you know if he has been working out and/or skating on his own yet?
Shelly Anderson: I have not seen either on the ice with other rehabbing players, and the Penguins have not reported that Crosby and/or Letang are skating, so I think it's fair to say they have not been on the ice yet. Skating would be a step in the process, but it's possible that increasing their off-ice exertion would be an intermediate step before they lace up the skates. There has not been any indication that Letang is doing any sort of workouts.
Shelly Anderson: Thanks for the questions. Here's wishing everyone a safe and prosperous 2012. Enjoy the Winter Classic or bowl games or whatever is on your agenda. Please join us again next week.
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