ST. LOUIS — It seemed like a fairly sure thing that winger Beau Bennett would return to the Penguins lineup Saturday night against the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.
But, in something of a surprise, Bennett was joined in the lineup by fellow winger James Neal.
It had been thought that Neal would need at least a few more days to recover from an unspecified injury that had kept him out since the first period of the Oct. 3 opener. But after two days of practicing as an extra forward, he was back in his regular spot alongside center Evgeni Malkin on the second line at the morning skate, took the pregame warm-up and suited up for the start of the game.
Neal either was not sure of his status or being coy after the morning skate, when he said, “I just need to get myself as close to game shape as possible, and, hopefully, I can get back in the lineup. It’s good to be part of a morning skate again, get that game feel. I feel good. I’m getting closer every day.”
Bennett returned after missing 11 games because of an unspecified injury.
Both players were activated from injured reserve before the game.
After a strong suggestion from some team alums, including Brett Hull and Kelly Chase, the Blues have stopped performing what has become a standard NHL goal celebration. The scorer and others on the ice no longer skate past the St. Louis bench getting gloved fist bumps or high-fives from the rest of the players.
The idea, Blues captain David Backes said, is to have a short celebration among the players on the ice, then head directly to center ice dot for the faceoff.
“It’s just something where you want to act like you’ve done it before and get back to the dot because we need to do it again,” Backes said. “Back to our game and here we go.
“I don’t think it’s individualistic and not trying to celebrate with the team. I just think it’s the guys on the ice celebrating real quickly. Don’t take it to the next level where you’re having a big shindig.”
The Penguins team captain, Sidney Crosby, doesn’t seem to feel strongly either way.
“I kind of liked the old way, too, where you celebrated with the guys on the ice and then either changed [the players the ice] or went back to center,” Crosby said. “I think it was way before I got in the league that they started doing that fly-by.
“I think it’s preference, whatever works for your team. I don’t think we’re jumping into the bench or anything like that. It’s not too excessive.”
St. Louis is not trying to set a trend across the NHL, Backes said, but toning down goal celebrations is something at least one other club has tried.
“At one point, we did stop doing that for a little bit,” Crosby said. “We did talk about it. I think it was last year or the year before.”
Crosby joked that one of his linemates, Pascal Dupuis, is a proponent of the post-goal skate-bys.
“[Dupuis] is in a big hurry to get there, so he didn’t want” to end that celebration, Crosby said.
Quite a dinner party
For just the second time in his career, Penguins center Joe Vitale played an NHL game in his hometown. This time, he wanted to make a visit to St. Louis special for his teammates.
So, he invited all of them to his parents’ house Friday night for a large family dinner.
“As a hockey player, you have two different worlds — you have your hockey world and you have your family world,” Vitale said.” When those come together, it was a pretty weird thing. But guys were great. Everybody just settled in right away. The food came out good.”
Extra tables and chairs were brought in. The fare was Italian, homemade with ingredients from The Hill, an area of St. Louis known for its Italian restaurants and food shops.
“It was my parents, my family, my wife, my mother-in-law — everyone pitched in and they just did a wonderful job,” Vitale said. “They all made something, and my dad was in his element for sure with all the guys there, serving up pasta and meatballs and bread. The only rule with my dad is you have to finish your pasta before you have any steak or chicken or anything else.”
“It was a nice spread, the whole Italian deal,” Crosby said. “It was a good night.”
When it comes to tip-ins, the Penguins’ healthy scratches were forwards Jayson Megna and Dustin Jeffrey. … Former Penguins defenseman Jordan Leopold (hand injury) and former Penguins winger Brenden Morrow (undisclosed injury) missed the game for St. Louis. … The United States Paralympic sled hockey team is holding a training camp several miles west of St. Louis this weekend and attended the Penguins-Blues game. Dan McCoy, of Cheswick, is on the 18-man roster.
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.