With all the injuries the Pittsburgh Penguins have had to deal with this season – key players like Evgeni Malkin, Rob Scuderi, Beau Bennett, Tomas Vokoun, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik have all missed time – one would think they would be especially wary of self-inflicted wounds.
That wasn’t the case Saturday night in Boston, as winger James Neal carelessly kneed the Bruins’ Brad Marchand in the head as he knelt on the ice. Later in that same sequence, Orpik was assaulted by Shawn Thornton, sending the former to a local hospital on a stretcher.
While Thornton will have an in-person hearing with the NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan later this week, Neal was taken to task via phone Monday. As RDS reporter Renaud Lavoie tweeted, the Penguins sharpshooter was issued a five-game suspension for his reckless foul.
Neal probably got off easy considering the ugly nature of his actions and his previous history with supplementary discipline. The 26-year-old was tolled a game in the 2012 playoffs for his hit to the head of Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux.
Since that incident occurred more than 18 months ago, Neal wasn’t considered a “repeat offender” in the eyes of the NHL. We may dispute the black-and-white nature of that standard, but it worked in Neal’s favor this time.
Nonetheless, the Penguins will certainly miss the dynamic goal-creating presence of Neal for the next couple of weeks. Since returning from an abdominal injury that kept him out for about a month, he has 10 goals and 10 assists in 15 games. Neal has been especially hot lately, lighting the lamp eight games in his last eight contests, a stretch in which the first-place Penguins (20-10-1, 41 points) have gone 5-2-1.
Pittsburgh hosts Columbus at 7 p.m. Monday. Neal will be eligible to return to the lineup card Thursday, Dec. 19 against Minnesota.