Brooks Orpik, James Neal return to Penguins practice on Monday

March 19, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik (44) controls the puck against the Washington Capitals during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins had their depth tested in a high-tempo 5-4 overtime Game 3 victory over the New York Islanders on Sunday afternoon. Less than 24 hours later, the team got promising news regarding possible reinforcements for Tuesday’s Game 4 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

According to the Penguins’ website, reliable defenseman Brooks Orpik and elite goal-scorer James Neal participated in the team’s optional practice Monday afternoon in Uniondale, N.Y., which was a fresh development for both injured athletes.

Oprik missed Pittsburgh’s final two regular-season games and the first three of the postseason with an undisclosed lower-body ailment, while Neal has been in the press box for the past two contests with a similar problem.

With apologies to Neal, who has averaged a goal every other game for the past two seasons, Orpik might be a more valuable piece at this point. The Penguins have put plenty of offense on the board against the Islanders – 13 goals in three games – but responsible defensive play has been a rarity since a comprehensive 5-0 win in Game 1.

Furthermore, with rookie Simon Despres getting benched late in Game 3 and Deryk Engelland a scratch due to a disappointing Game 2, the Penguins leaned heavily upon their top five blueliners on Sunday. Kris Letang (33:33) and Paul Martin (31:33) each played nearly half of the 69 available minutes in Game 3. Mark Eaton (23:47) , Douglas Murray (20:43) and Matt Niskanen (18:59) also took on additional ice time, with diminishing returns in most cases.

Orpik, 32, may have lost some explosiveness because of age and assorted nagging injuries over the years, but his presence would provide coach Dan Bylsma with a player that can be trusted in any situation. Orpik has also developed a reputation for speaking his mind when the team isn’t playing the way they should, which has been a stark issue in Games 2 and 3.

Bylsma offered no official update on the health of Orpik or Neal, as per club policy during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Topics: 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Brooks Orpik, James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins

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