Latest on Bennett, Neal, Vitale & Letang

The Penguins, as expected, are being cautious in letting Beau Bennett return to NHL action. Cleared last Sunday by team doctors, the Penguins have sent Bennett down to Wilkes Barre/Scranton for a conditioning assignment. He has not play since November 22.
Bennett will play at least a few games in Wilkes Barre. “The plan is for him to go to Wilkes Barre and play a few games,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. Bennett is expected to be in the lineup tomorrow night vs the Utica Comets and Sunday at Albany.
“I’m just excited to play some games,” Bennett said……It’s been a long time coming. It’s really fun being around the team. I can’t wait to get out there.”
Bennett said today that his legs feel great but his shot still isn’t where he’d like it to be.
“My legs feel as good as they’ve ever felt,” Bennett said. “Hands are coming along. My shots not where I want it to be but still feel pretty comfortable out there.”
With Lee Stempniak’s emergence on the top line, Bennett is slotted to play on the third line when he returns to NHL action, though, there will likely be some temptation to play him on Malkin’s left wing at times, but not right away.
Due to Jussi Jokinen’s past history of playing a defensive minded role in Carolina, the Penguins coaches have always been intrigued about a third line in the post-season with Brandon Sutter and Jokinen matching up against the oppositions top line.
Joe Vitale will miss this weekend’s games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and St. Louis Blues due to an upper body injury. Taylor Pyatt is likely to draw into the lineup.
James Neal was fined $5,000 for cross checking Detroit’s Luke Glendening in the face during last night’s game. David Legwand was also fined $5,000 for butt ending Evgeni Malkin in the stomach. Neal is making $5 million this year and Legwand is earning $3.5 million. What a statement from the league! Both should have been suspended.
Kris Letang continues to look great on the ice but he did mention today that he still doesn’t feel right some days. “There’s still some days where I don’t feel quite right,” Letang said…… Being on ice is fine. More of outside the ice is more of the problem.”
Will this play out like the Sidney Crosby situation leading into the Penguins first round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2011 playoffs (2010-2011 season)?

Totally different health problem but leading into the 2011 playoffs, Crosby was looking great in practices and appearing close to returning but then was pretty much shutdown from skating a few days into the Penguins first round series with Lightning as he wasn’t as healthy as he appeared in practices. I still remember this one practice a couple days before Game 1 of that series at Southpointe where Crosby was just flying around the ice, skating like a player who was preparing to play at somepoint in the series. He had that wow factor on the ice about him.
I remember one former NHL player telling me during the practice that Crosby’s practicing like he knows he’s going to be playing soon.
Media members and even some in the organization were buzzing that he could quite possibly return by Game 5 of the series. Obviously never happened and Crosby wouldn’t even be ready to play for the start of the 2011-2012 season.
As positive as things have been for Letang, it’s such an unpredictable process right now with his type of health problem.

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William DePaoli

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William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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