Beau Bennett, right, is congratulated by Tyler Kennedy after scoring in a game in March.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Winger Beau Bennett, who has missed the past 10 games with an unspecified injury, rejoined his teammates for practice Monday at Southpointe.
And when that session was over, he sounded as if he expects to be with them in a game before long.
“I feel much better, strength-wise, than where I was at when I started to take time off,” he said. “I feel pretty close [to being in game shape].”
However, coach Dan Bylsma all but ruled out Bennett for the game Wednesday night in New York — “He’s got to work his way back with more practice time than just [today],” he said — and said there is no timetable for him to rejoin the lineup.
Assuming he sits out the Rangers game, Bennett’s next opportunity to play would come Saturday when the Penguins visit St. Louis.
Bennett made it through some contact drills with no apparent problem Monday.
“It feels good to get out there and battle with someone,” he said, adding that getting acclimated to the speed of the game figures to be his biggest challenge.
“You think you’re going fast when you’re out there by yourself, just skating around with [conditioning coach Mike] Kadar, but there’s definitely a different level in-game,” he said.
“It takes time, but I felt good out there.”
Bylsma said right winger James Neal, who has not played since the season opener Oct. 3, skated on his own before practice “for an extended period of time.” No timetable for Neal to participate in practice, let alone games, has been announced.
Weekly honor for Fleury
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was honored as the NHL’s No. 2 star of the week that ended Sunday.
He went 3-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .940 percentage in starts against Carolina, Boston and Columbus.
“I’m happy,” Fleury said. “As long as we keep winning and I can keep the team in games, keep the games close, it’s good.”
Minnesota right winger Jason Pominville, who had four goals and two assists in three games, was the league’s No. 1 star.
Washington’s Jason Chimera was No. 3 after recording two goals and four assists in three games.
Fleury, by the way, had two fights in junior hockey — he said he broke a knuckle on an opponent’s forehead in one of them — and made it clear he would not back down if attacked the way Philadelphia goalie Ray Emery went after his Washington counterpart, Braden Holtby, last Friday.
With a smile, he added, “I’m not going to go after Emery, that’s for sure.”
Bylsma said that if such a situation arose, “I, in no way, shape or form, want [players] to leave the bench to protect the goalie,” but he would want someone to intervene on his goalie’s behalf.
“You’d want to get in there for your goalie and certainly protect him in that situation,” he said.
“Holtby certainly was needing someone to get in there for him.”
No Nash, no problem?
The Penguins have had their share of significant injuries this season, but New York likely will be without a pretty important player, too, when the Penguins visit Madison Square Garden.
Left winger Rick Nash, one of the game’s premier power forwards, has appeared in just three games this season because of a concussion.
“He’s one of those guys like Sid [Crosby] or [Evgeni Malkin],” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “You don’t replace that kind of guy with a guy you call up from the minors.”
He added, though, that it would be folly to view whoever fills Nash’s spot in the lineup as less than a legitimate threat.
“This league is so good. … You learn that if you ever take your foot off the pedal — whether it’s a guy coming from the American League or someone who just gets bumped up a line — they can make you look pretty silly,” Orpik said.
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