Penguins' Staal will miss early regular-season games


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The Penguins have big plans for Jordan Staal this season and in the long term.

They want him to continue to be a force as a two-way center, whether that is on the third line as in the past or on the second line with Evgeni Malkin moving to his wing.

They want him to continue to be one of their top penalty-killers.

They want him to push for the job of manning the front of the net on the top power-play unit.

Mostly, though, they want him to get past a stubborn infection in his right foot so he can get himself ready and get in the lineup.

"Hopefully, [this is] the final setback for him," general manager Ray Shero said Thursday after the club revealed Staal had yet another procedure this week to clean out infected tissue around an incision that dates to April 30, when a tendon on the top of his foot was lacerated during a playoff game.

"It's difficult because as soon as it seems to be making progress, the infection comes back." Shero said.

The Penguins determined around the beginning of this month that Staal would miss the start of training camp but likely would be ready for the Oct. 7 season opener. That now has been pushed back. Team physician Dr. Charles Burke is optimistic the hulking 22-year-old will be ready to play in five to six weeks, causing him to miss at least the first seven to 10 games.

Because they know now that Staal will not be available for the start of the season, the Penguins are making some short-term plans.

Coach Dan Bylsma said it is "a possibility" they will configure their forward lines in such a way that Staal will be able to step in without too much juggling, but he expects do to a fair amount of experimenting with his forwards in training camp.

Players report today and will take the ice for the first time Saturday.

"Training camp won't change much because we didn't expect Jordan to be there for most of training camp," Bylsma said. "Combinations and situations, penalty-killing roles -- we were ready to make those adjustments and let players battle it out for some of the ice time and some of the positions Jordan would find himself in."

Bylsma envisions Staal remaining at center, not moving to the wing on one of the top two lines.

Still, some things will hinge on how the Penguins decide to deploy Staal, who last season had 21 goals and tied a career high with 49 points.

For instance, if Staal moves to center on the No. 2 line when he is healthy, his old unit will get not only new personnel, but also revised duties.

"If Staal is not on the third line, it will have a different look, and there will be different responsibilities, in terms of matchups," Bylsma said.

Even without Staal, the Penguins have 12 forwards on one-way contracts, plus several other forwards who signed over the summer and have NHL experience or are prospects seemingly on the cusp of breaking into the NHL. So there will be plenty of scenarios to explore.

Shero said his late-summer free-agent forward signings, namely Mike Comrie and Arron Asham, were not designed to offset the loss of Staal, but were made to provide depth and competition.

Staal had surgery the night of the injury and surprised nearly everyone when he came back six days later after missing two playoff games. Shero reiterated that the original injury is fully healed and that the ensuing problems with infection -- he said it is not a staph infection -- are not related to Staal's quick return in May.

He needed another procedure around early June.

Bylsma said once Staal gets back on the ice, he will be given time to practice with the team for a couple of weeks as a sort of personal training camp before he plays.

Staal has missed just one regular-season NHL game, and that came in his rookie season, 2006-07.

"You go through ups and downs in a career; he's just getting it all at once," linemate Matt Cooke said of Staal. "Thankfully, most of it was in the offseason.

"I think a lot of us know that he's a huge part of this team. He knows he's a huge part of this team. We'll just try and hold the fort until he gets back."


For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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