Status of Penguins' Staal, Vitale up in air

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Penguins centers Jordan Staal and Joe Vitale missed practice for the second day in a row Thursday because of unspecified injuries.

"We expect them to be at the morning skate" today in Ottawa, coach Dan Bylsma said, adding that for the game tonight against the Senators, "they will be a game-time decision."

Staal was questionable for the game Tuesday against Detroit after missing the previous game, Saturday against the New York Islanders. He played nearly 21 minutes against the Red Wings but seemed somewhat limited beyond being the team's top faceoff man (12 of 17) in a 4-1 loss.

Vitale played nearly 12 minutes Tuesday and was not known to have been hurt beforehand.

Defenseman Zbynek Michalek practiced again Thursday and traveled with the club to Ottawa. Barring a return of concussion symptoms, he should play after missing the past seven games.

Rookie defenseman Brian Strait (hyperextended elbow) continued to practice with the team.

Remaining out are forwards Sidney Crosby (concussion), Richard Park (broken foot) and Dustin Jeffrey (knee), and defensemen Kris Letang (concussion), Robert Bortuzzo (concussion) and Ben Lovejoy (broken wrist).

Lovejoy continues to skate separately with conditioning coach Mike Kadar .

Concussions affect plans, too

With concussions being diagnosed in NHL players -- several of then prominent players -- at what could be considered an alarming rate, coaches are left scrambling because of the nature of those brain injuries.

Standard protocol is for players to become symptom-free, then go through a series of steps toward returning to the lineup without symptoms returning.

"You just don't know." Bylsma said. "You don't know if a guy is going to be one week, two weeks or out longer than that. That uncertainty makes it kind of tough to plan down the road. ... The uncertainty of it is difficult."

Dupuis to join 700 club

All Pascal Dupuis has to do tonight to reach 700 games in his NHL career is get in the lineup. Add a goal or an assist, and he also will reach 300 points.

For now, he is counting on only one of those.

"Well, 700 games will happen," he said. "Three hundred [points], I'm not sure. One of them will happen for sure."

Dupuis, 32, has missed just two games dating to the start of the 2009-10 season. He has been a durable and versatile forward since the Penguins acquired him -- and a guy named Marian Hossa -- from Atlanta late in the 2007-08 season. He has played both wings and, lately, some center.

He figures 700 games and, perhaps, 300 points are not bad milestones for someone who was not drafted and whose junior career was undermined by a badly broken leg.

"Kind of a late-bloomer kind of guy," he said. "Made my way to the NHL. Passion, dedication and hard work got me here."

Not that he is looking for 700 to be his last game milestone.

"Hopefully, there will be way more," he said.

Tip-ins

Former Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar (undisclosed injury) and fellow Ottawa defenseman Filip Kuba (undisclosed injury) are doubtful for the game tonight. ... Senators forward Milan Michalek , the NHL's goals leader with 19 going into Thursday and the brother of Zbynek, rode a stationary bike Thursday, considered a good sign, but he is not expected to play tonight because of a concussion. ... Ottawa has converted on just four of its past 55 power plays.


For much 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 , 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.


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