James Neal out indefinitely with a concussion

James Neal

Death, taxes, and injuries for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That’s right, a Penguins top-six that could ill-afford another injury this season is now dealing with just that after it was announced that right wing James Neal would be out indefinitely with a concussion.

Neal missed practice Thursday with concussion-like symptoms before being officially evaluated and diagnosed by Penguins team doctors today.  And with back-to-back games against division rival Philadelphia scheduled for this weekend,  Neal’s injury could not come at a worse time for the Pens.

Neal’s absence likely means that he will be replaced with Brian Gibbons (gulp) on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen until he returns, whenever that may be.

I’m not one to believe in “the hockey gods”, but stuff like this really makes you wonder.  With 391 man games lost to injury so far this season, the Pens lead all other teams in that category by a country mile.

What’s more, they’ve come is some pretty unconventional ways, too:  a stroke, a blood clot, an elbow infection, five broken bones, three torn ligaments, and two concussions, all to key players on the Penguins roster. Pittsburgh has dealt with injuries before, but you wonder how much more the team can take before they realize that a line-up augmented with a bunch of un-drafted AHL-call ups simply isn’t going to get the job done.

Nevertheless, I’m curious to see how Pittsburgh and head coach Dan Bylsma handle things in the up-coming weeks.  Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have carried the team for long stretches of the season before, but now the pressure is all the more real.  And seeing as how Crosby is one of the few (knock on wood) Penguins forwards to stay completely healthy so far, he will be leaned on heavily to provide constant offense for a team that’s been extremely shaky as of late.