Penguins notebook: No panic over run of significant injuries

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SUNRISE, Fla. -- Maybe it's because the Penguins aren't struggling. After all, they have been at or near the top of the Eastern Conference and Metropolitan Division much of this season.

Quietly, though, they have been plagued by injuries perhaps as much as any NHL team this season. They lost 114 man-games to injury through their first 27 games before Saturday night in a game against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center -- and not just to role players.

The list of players who have missed or are projected to miss time measured in weeks or months includes forwards James Neal and Beau Bennett, defensemen Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi and Paul Martin, and goaltender Tomas Vokoun, among others.

Coach Dan Bylsma has steered the Penguins through long-term injuries to key players before, and so he hasn't shown outward signs of frustration or panic.

"We certainly are not a team that sounds any alarms or bells, scraps game plans or how we're going to play because of an injury here or there," Bylsma said. "We've always felt like we can win a hockey game and be a good team regardless of the injuries."

The saving grace has been a series of players who have filled in admirably after being called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.

"In some cases, as you look back, you don't like to see people injured and you don't like to see good players go down, but they are opportunities for your team to play and play well and guys to step in and the next guy up to get in there," Bylsma said.

"The depth of our organization has shown."

Neal and the Olympics

Neal, a right winger, scored 21 goals in 40 games last season, and that put him squarely on the radar of the guys who will be selecting Canada's 2014 Olympic team. He was invited to his country's pre-Olympics camp in the summer and looked to be a better-than-even-money bet to claim a spot on the roster.

But that was before Neal missed 15 games with an unspecified injury. He left the opener after taking just five shifts and did not return until Nov. 9.

The extended absence, obviously, did nothing to enhance his chances.

"It's tough when you miss time," Neal said. "You put yourself behind, but, at the same time, I can't really do anything about that with the injury I had.

"I'm just trying to get back in the swing of things here and I think I'm getting back to where I was. Hopefully, I'll just continue to keep getting better."

He has been awfully good of late, scoring five goals in the four games leading up to a game against the Panthers. That puts him at seven goals, 14 points in the 11 games since he returned.

That outburst presumably has been noticed by the Team Canada selectors and likely made the point that his game is back in sync months before the Olympics begin.

"I see myself, hopefully, being able to make that team, but you never know what's going to happen," Neal said.

"There are a lot of great Canadian hockey players who are definitely worthy of a spot."

Crunching Crosby's numbers

A little more on Sidney Crosby's march to 700 points:

The Penguins center had three assists Friday in a 3-0 win against Tampa Bay to reach 701 points in 497 NHL games.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, he is the sixth player to reach 700 points in fewer than 500 games. The others were Wayne Gretzky (317), Mario Lemieux (363), Peter Stastny (457), Mike Bossy (469) and Jari Kurri (483).

All are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Tip-ins

Other than starting backup Jeff Zatkoff in goal, the Penguins went with the same lineup they had used against Tampa Bay, with defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and forward Zach Sill the healthy scratches. ... The Penguins have a scheduled day off today. At one point, it was going to be spent in South Florida, but, instead, the club elected to travel home after the game.


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly. Dave Molinari of the contributed to this report.

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