Pens’ Outlook Improves as Staal, Crosby Progress

The Pittsburgh Penguins had an up-and-down weekend, first beating the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, 2-1, then failing to recover from a lethargic start and falling to the New Jersey Devils, 5-2. Off the ice, too, the news for the Penguins was mixed as they arrived in Montreal to face the Canadiens.

Forward Jordan Staal and defenseman Simon Despres inched closer to their returns from knee injuries, joining Pittsburgh’s team practice Monday at the Bell Centre. Head coach Dan Bylsma estimated both players as 5-10 days from returning to the lineup.

“Having a guy like Jordan out for an extended period of 4-6 weeks is a heck of a long time in a hockey season,” Bylsma said. “To get him back on the ice, [that’s] a pretty darn good player to insert into your lineup. Hopefully we get him back here in the next 10 days.”

“Today, I showed up for work,” said Staal, who’s just past the four-week mark of his projected 4-6 week rehab. “It’s a good feeling to be back with the team. The knee feels good … just the next step, and we’ll see how it’s going to go from there. I think it’s just mentally being prepared for the game and knowing everything’s going to hold up.”

The knee may be close, but skating with his teammates reminded Staal that getting into game shape will be another hurdle. “Obviously, it’s my first practice back with the team, and the guys skate pretty fast. It makes you want to catch up pretty fast,” he said. “It takes a little while to get that under your belt.”

Even captain Sidney Crosby took the opportunity to practice with the team, though his status – as he recovers from concussion-like symptoms and a recently diagnosed soft-tissue neck injury – remains unchanged.

“When I go back to Pittsburgh, I’ll be skating by myself again,” Crosby said. “I feel like this week’s been good. I don’t have a timeframe; I wish I did, but I don’t. The good news is that there is some progression and, with this stuff, that’s always what you’re looking for.”

The neck-injury diagnosis, which doctors believe could be causing Crosby’s symptoms, has given him cause for hope. He’s received injections for swelling at the C1 and C2 vertebrae and is now undergoing targeted treatment that includes massage and ultrasound.

“It’s just nice to not be guessing,” he said. “You know you’re going to go in and get your neck worked on. It’s much better than sitting around waiting for the symptoms to go away, or hoping they do. Even if the progress isn’t as quick, it’s still nice.”

As has so often been the case over the past couple of seasons, however, the Penguins couldn’t get positive injury news without another player being sidelined. Forward Tyler Kennedy returned to Pittsburgh Monday for evaluation of a lower-body injury suffered late in Sunday’s loss at New Jersey.

“Hopefully, in the next 24-48 hours, we’ll know the severity of his injury,” Bylsma said.

Overall, however, the Penguins’ injury situation is starting to look up – and at just the right time. With the February 27 trade deadline around the corner, Pittsburgh has made one move so far, plucking 25-year-old center Cal O’Reilly off of reentry waivers, but expects its highest-impact moves to come from within.

“I think we like our team in a lot of areas. If we could trade for Sidney Crosby at the deadline, that would be a good one,” Bylsma said. “Getting healthy, having everyone in our lineup, we haven’t had that in a long time. And that’d be something we’d like to see at the end of the year in the playoffs.”

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