Pittsburgh Penguins get good news as Crosby, Neal, Martin skate Monday


The Pittsburgh Penguins have won 19 of their last 21 games, but the most significant recent story has been about who’s sidelined instead of who’s actually on the ice.

However, good news arrived on that front Monday morning as Sidney Crosby, James Neal and Paul Martin all skated at various levels of intensity with Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar before the team’s official practice.

Crosby sported full equipment with a clear plastic “cage” attached to his helmet to protect his still-healing broken jaw. Neal, recovering from a concussion, also skated in his game-night gear, while Martin (broken hand) performed drills in a track suit:

(Video courtesy of PensTV)

According to the Penguins’ website, coach Dan Bylsma provided no public schedule for the trio’s continued recoveries. Martin has been out of the lineup the longest, missing the Pens’ last seven games after breaking his hand March 28 vs. Winnipeg. Crosby took a deflected shot to the mouth two days later against the Islanders, and Neal was felled by a Michael Del Zotto elbow to the head April 5.

With 13 days remaining in the regular season and more than two weeks to go before the Stanley Cup playoff start, the Penguins can afford to be fairly deliberate in rehabbing these three. Conversely, one would imagine Crosby and Neal would want to get a couple of games in before the postseason. Martin has a longer timetable for his return, as it typically takes at least a month before a player with a broken hand can practice at full capacity.

March 28, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) carries the puck up ice against the Winnipeg Jets during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh’s position in the standings affords some leeway in getting everyone back to health. The Penguins have a seven-point lead on Montreal for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with six games to play, meaning a win over the Canadiens on Wednesday would essentially lock up the No. 1 seed.

In other positive injury-related news, Evgeni Malkin participated in practice Monday, boding well for his availability for Wednesday. Malkin, who has missed 14 games this season due to multiple ailments, was held out of Saturday’s 3-1 win at Florida with what is reported to be a nagging shoulder problem.

Also, defenseman Kris Letang has been dynamic since his return to action last week. In two matches, the puck-possession machine has logged nearly 52 minutes, close to matching his season average of 25:32. He also has a goal, an assist and five shots on target over that span – promising results for one of the Penguins’ most valuable players.

Speaking of that, Crosby still has an above-average chance of still winning the NHL MVP even if he doesn’t dress for another regular-season game. With 56 points, he continues to lead the league scoring race, with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis each four points behind with six to play.

Crosby won his only Hart Trophy for MVP in 2006-07, the same year he claimed his only scoring title. If he can grab his second Art Ross this season, it stands to reason he’ll be the frontrunner for the Hart considering how well the Penguins have performed.