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Letang not ready, Neal on IR for Penguins

by Wes Crosby /

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins placed forward James Neal on injured reserve Tuesday, while injured defenseman Kris Letang is not prepared to return despite making progress.

Neal sustained an upper-body injury on opening night and left the game after logging less than four minutes of ice time Oct. 3 against the New Jersey Devils. In the 12 days prior to Neal going on IR, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has said Neal would have to participate in a full practice before returning to action.

Bylsma said Neal's placement on IR is retroactive, so he would be eligible to come off at any time since it has been more than 10 days since he was injured.

To replace Neal on the roster, the Penguins recalled forward Harry Zolnierczyk from Pittsburgh's American Hockey League affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Zolnierczyk will play on Pittsburgh's third line with Brandon Sutter and Dustin Jeffrey on Tuesday.

"We wanted a call-up that needs to play somewhere between nine and 12 minutes of hockey," Bylsma said. "Who needs to be effective and we saw in training camp a little bit of what he brings, but the speed at which he plays, getting to the net, the forechecking -- he's done that and did that in training camp."

Pittsburgh has been without Letang, a Norris Trophy finalist last season, as he's been nursing a knee injury and began the season on IR. Letang participated in the Penguins' morning skate Tuesday -- on a fourth defensive pairing with Deryk Engelland -- but will not play Tuesday.

"I'm making progress every day," Letang said. "There's no day, there's nothing we're looking at right now. We're taking it a day at a time.

"I'm making sure I'm keeping my conditioning high, but you can't always do a lot in the gym. It's different on the ice, but right now I feel pretty good."

Letang skated for 30 minutes in Pittsburgh's Monday practice and skated alone before the skate Tuesday. Bylsma said he is pleased with the steps Letang has taken toward recovery.

"Today he really had two skates. He had a more difficult one prior to morning skate and then continued on with the morning skate," Bylsma said. "He's still progressing and he had 30 minutes yesterday and again today, I think a full practice is the next progression for where he's going."

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