PITTSBURGH -- Just when the Pittsburgh Penguins are getting one of their key players back from an extended layoff, they must deal with yet another injury to a frontline forward.
With center Jordan Staal expected back as early as Saturday following a five-week layoff with a left knee injury, forward Tyler Kennedy is going on the shelf for the second time this season. Kennedy has a high ankle sprain that is expected to sideline him for 4-to-6 weeks, coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday.
"After a week we'll have a better idea of what the time frame looks like exactly, as it calms down and as he rehabs," Bylsma said following an off-day practice at Consol Energy Center.
Kennedy was hurt late in a 5-2 loss at New Jersey on Sunday and was held out of a 3-2 shootout loss to Montreal on Tuesday. He has 6 goals and 22 points in 42 games following his breakout 2010-11 season in which he had 21 goals and 45 points in 80 games.
Kennedy also had a concussion that kept him out for 11 games from Oct. 15-Nov. 11.
Another injury? It's a familiar scenario for a high-profile team that still has no idea when superstar center Sidney Crosby will play again as he mends from a second lengthy layoff with concussion-like symptoms.
Fourteen Penguins players have missed at least seven games each with injuries, including their top three centers (Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Staal) and their top four defensemen (Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek).
The injuries, especially Crosby's, appear to be exacting a toll on a team that spent much of the first two-plus months of the season in the overall Eastern Conference lead.
They recently ran off an eight-game winning streak, but the Penguins (30-19-5) have dropped into sixth place in the conference standings while going 14-12-1 since Crosby last played on Dec. 5. They began the season 10-3-3. Crosby has missed all but eight of the Penguins' 54 games as he deals with a concussion-like symptoms that also kept him out of their final 41 games and the playoffs last season.
Crosby skated Thursday before practice with injured teammate Arron Asham (concussion), but his return is not imminent. He practiced one day in Montreal earlier this week, but has not yet been cleared for full-contact practice.
With the Penguins about to play their next three and six of their next eight at home, where they are 15-7-2, they are eager to welcome back Staal. A proven shutdown defender who is frequently matched against an opponent's top line, Staal scored a goal in three consecutive games just before he was hurt last month.
Staal was on pace for his best career season, with 15 goals and 6 assists in 34 games, before spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during a knee-to-knee hit with former teammate Mike Rupp of the Rangers on Jan. 6.
The Penguins received yet another scare when Staal required stitches after being struck in the face by an errant stick during practice Thursday, but Bylsma said, "He'll be fine."
Last season, Staal was ready to return after missing the first month of the season with a lacerated foot only to break a hand during practice, forcing him to miss another two months.