-- Just when the Pittsburgh Penguins
' injury list seemingly couldn't grow any longer, add two more very prominent names: Jordan Staal
and James Neal
An already bad weekend for the Penguins became much worse Sunday when they learned that Staal, an elite two-way center enjoying the best season of his career, will be out for four to six weeks with a medial collateral ligament injury in his left knee. He is not expected to undergo surgery.
If that injury wasn't devastating enough to a slumping team that has lost four in a row, Neal will be out for what coach Dan Bylsma
said will be "weeks" with a broken foot. Neal, fifth in the NHL with 21 goals, was struck in the foot by a Henrik Tallinder
shot late in a 3-1 loss to New Jersey on Saturday night.
Neal's scoring largely carried the Penguins to a 10-3-3 start. Since then, they are 11-12-1 and have tumbled from first place in the Eastern Conference to a precarious eighth place in only a month's time.
There's more: forward Craig Adams
, a valuable member of the penalty killing unit, reinjured his right knee during a Sunday practice collision with Brooks Orpik
and Matt Niskanen
and will need further evaluation. Adams was hurt during a practice that originally wasn't on the Penguins' schedule but was added after the loss to New Jersey.
The Penguins, who have played all but eight games without star center Sidney Crosby
, have lost an NHL-leading 210 man-games to injuries -- a number that keeps growing by the day. It's the second successive season they have been racked by injuries; last season, Staal, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin
were sidelined for months each as the Penguins lost 350 man-games to injury.
Currently, they are on pace to top that total by about 100 man-games.
When they go into Tuesday night's game against the Ottawa Senators
at Consol Energy Center, the Penguins are expected to be without Crosby (concussion), star defenseman Kris Letang
(concussion), Staal, Neal, Adams, forward Arron Asham
(undisclosed injury) and forward Dustin Jeffrey
Still, Bylsma said the Penguins must remain focused and seek production from those still in the lineup. They could use more scoring from forward Tyler Kennedy
, who has been limited to 5 goals in 29 games after scoring a career-high 21 last season.
"Guys will step up in these situations and will get opportunities to score goals and be effective," Bylsma said. "Tyler Kennedy
will be one of those guys. but it's going to be the group of guys -- that's got to be the bigger focus, rather than counting on Evgeni Malkin
or Tyler Kennedy
to step forward and score goals so we can win hockey games."
The latest injuries could force general manager Ray Shero
into making a hastily arranged trade to get the Penguins through their latest round of injuries.
The Penguins' injury situation is earning sympathy even from opposing teams. After making 41 saves against them Saturday, Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur
said, "They've got so many injuries, at one point it was going to come back and hit them a little bit."
That point appears to be now. The Penguins have lost each of their last three games by 3-1 scores, two to the Devils and one to the Rangers. They've lost four in a row in regulation for the first time since they dropped five straight from Dec. 27, 2009 through Jan. 3, 2010.
The organization prides itself on its depth -- centers Crosby, Malkin and Staal form what arguably is the League's best such trio -- but even that depth has evaporated as the injuries mount. Complicating matters is that the Penguins have no idea when Letang, a skilled point man on their power play unit, or Crosby will return.
Crosby hasn't skated since last playing on Dec. 5. Letang, out since Nov. 26, has resumed light skating but still hasn't returned to practice.
Crosby has missed 32 games, while defenseman Zbynek Michalek
was out for 20 games with a concussion and Malkin sat out seven games in October following offseason knee surgery. Defenseman Paul Martin
returned this weekend after missing six games with a lower body injury.
Bylsma doesn't blame the Penguins' recent slide on the injuries, but rather an inability deal with in-game adversity. They outshot the Rangers 38-21 and the Devils 42-27 while taking early leads in both games, yet never scored again in either game. They also gave up a shorthanded goal in both games.
"At some point you understand there are going to be injuries and you move on and you get ready to play next game the way we need to play," Bylsma said. "The last few games we've done some good things, but how we react to certain circumstances -- making a mistake, them scoring a goal -- has been a problem for our team. Responding to adversity and playing through it and continuing to play, it's something we have to get better at."
Orpik, one of the team leaders, also doesn't want to hear any excuses.
"The accountability in this room has to be a lot better," Orpik said after the Devils game. "We aren't reacting to adversity very well right now. You can't feel sorry for yourselves."