Throughout Penguins training camp, there was a question of whether Jussi Jokinen or Beau Bennett would earn a shot at playing on the line centered by Evgeni Malkin.
Turns out, they might both be there, at least for a chunk of the season.
James Neal, a fixture as Malkin's right winger, is dealing with an unspecified injury that has rendered his status "more week-to-week than it is day-to-day," according to coach Dan Bylsma Friday, although Bylsma prefaced that by noting that Neal needs further medical evaluation before a firm timetable can be established.
Neal, a sniper who has a 40-goal season on his resume and great rapport with Malkin, missed practice Wednesday and the game-day skate Thursday because of his injury, which, at that point, was considered minor. Neal was in the lineup for season opener, a 3-0 home win Thursday night against New Jersey, but left in the first period after aggravating the injury.
Beginning tonight, when the Penguins meet Buffalo at Consol Energy Center, Jokinen and Bennett are expected to flank Malkin, although speedy Chuck Kobasew also could see time on Malkin's right wing, and Malkin -- a former NHL scoring champion and MVP -- might be used in other combinations at times, Bylsma said.
Bylsma readily admits no one on the roster will flat-out replace Neal.
"When you think about Evgeni's line, [Neal] is a staple on the right," Bylsma said. "They go together, how they play together and what James does in support of [Malkin]. Obviously, that's not going to be there."
Neither does Bylsma want or expect Bennett or whoever plays on that line to try to replicate Neal's game.
"I don't think anybody going into that spot should be thinking about playing or doing what James does," Bylsma said. "They have to play their own game. It's going to be a different dynamic for that line and for [Malkin]."
Jokinen, 30, surpassed Bennett in the preseason competition to play on Malkin's left wing.
"Jussi, as a smart player, has a good understanding of how to play with a real skilled player," Bylsma said. "He's shown that. He's going to continue to get that opportunity."
Bennett, 21, lacks a ton of NHL experience but has skill and has added a measure of physical play this season.
"Beau's going to get an opportunity," Bylsma said. "It may be a mixture of Beau and Chuck Kobasew, who has a different element of speed."
Crosby and faceoffs
Center Sidney Crosby not only tore up the faceoff circles Thursday, winning 15 of 22 draws (68.2 percent), but he also surpassed 5,000 career faceoff wins. He is 5,011-4,648 (51.9 percent).
That wasn't something he was tracking.
"Faceoffs are important, but it's kind of always about the next one that you've got to win," he said. "I don't think it really matters about the ones you have won."
Crosby won 45.5 percent of his faceoffs as a rookie in 2005-06, although he spent a significant amount of that season as a winger on Mario Lemieux's line. For the past six seasons, he has been better than 50 percent, with a high of 55.9 percent in 2009-10. He won 54.3 percent last season.
Crosby sometimes is sent onto the ice specifically to take a faceoff and then exit, particularly in some short-handed situations. He feels strongest when he's taking a draw on his backhand.
While eclipsing 5,000 faceoff wins caught him by surprise, he zeroed in on the fact that he has taken nearly 10,000.
"I think that's the cool part, to think that I've taken that many faceoffs," he said.
Adams one up on Dupuis
There was a time when Penguins wingers Craig Adams and Pascal Dupuis had played the same number of NHL games.
"We were tied until three years ago, but I had a baby," Dupuis recalled of missing a game in the 2010-11 season. Neither has missed a game since.
So, one game after Adams played in his 800th game, Dupuis will do so tonight. He's proud of reaching that round number.
"Sure. Especially with being undrafted, 800 is pretty good," Dupuis, 34, said.
Adams celebrated No. 800 with a goal against New Jersey. It remains to be seen if Dupuis can match it.penguins
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published October 5, 2013 4:00 AM