PITTSBURGH -- James Neal was supposed to be out of the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup for weeks with a broken foot. Turns out his absence lasted mere hours.
Neal, fifth in the NHL with 21 goals, unexpectedly took part in the Penguins' morning skate before their Tuesday night game against the Ottawa Senators at Consol Energy Center, then said he's "good to go."
Coach Dan Bylsma said X-rays taken after Neal blocked a shot by the Devils' Henrik Tallinder during a 3-1 loss on Saturday night showed a fracture, but later tests determined he has a bone bruise. With such an injury, a player can continue playing if his pain tolerance permits it, and without delaying the healing process.
Only a day after teammates reported him walking with considerable discomfort, Neal skated without visible pain and will take his usual spot at right wing on the top line with left wing Chris Kunitz and center Evgeni Malkin.
"The first preliminary tests done after the game (Saturday) indicated a fracture in a tough bone in a tough place," Bylsma said. "The MRI showed what he had was a preexisting condition that showed up as a crack on X-rays. He may have done it as kid. … He was pretty relieved to hear the news."
After weeks of nothing but bad injury news -- Jordan Staal tore the MCL in his left knee Friday against the Rangers and will be out at least a month -- the Penguins finally got some positive news.
"It's all right to go. The MRI showed it can't get any worse," Neal said. "I want to play and help the team, and if it can't get any worse then there isn't any reason why I shouldn't play. It felt good in the skate and I'll be ready to go."
Forward Craig Adams, who appeared to sustain a serious right knee injury during practice on Sunday, also skated and plans to be in the lineup.
Star center Sidney Crosby (concussion) and defenseman Kris Letang (concussion) still remain out indefinitely, but Neal's surprise return clearly provided the slumping Penguins with a much-needed boost.
On Sunday, only 12 hours after the Penguins dropped their fourth in a row and second in as many nights at home, coach Dan Bylsma said Neal would miss "weeks, not days" and that Staal would be out four-to-six weeks. His prognosis has not changed.
"A few days ago things were turning from bad to worse," Kunitz said. "But if he (Neal) is able to go, he's a big part of our team. He's a guy who can score goals from any area on the ice and is a great power-play guy. He's also a great penalty killer for our team."
Neal doesn't expect the injury to affect any part of his game.
"Obviously it's going to hurt when you take a shot to the foot, but I'll be all right to go," said Neal, who is second on the team with 36 points. "Everybody plays with bumps and bruises, and it's just one of those things."
Defenseman Paul Martin's status for the Senators' game is uncertain. He has an undisclosed illness that caused him to miss practice Monday and the morning skate.