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Insider Only Morning Skate Buzz: Neal on track to return; Zatkoff first goaltender off ice

STARS (32-24-11, 75 pts) @ PENGUINS (44-19-4, 92 pts)
The Pittsburgh Penguins top-2 lines figure to get a boost tonight vs the Dallas Stars. Barring no setbacks between now and game time, James Neal will return to the lineup tonight and Chris Kunitz also has a good chance to play tonight.
Both were full participants this morning, with Kunitz skating on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Lee Stempniak. Neal was back on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen.
Neal and Kunitz also worked extensively on the first power play unit that included Matt Niskanen and Evgeni Malkin at the point with Kunitz, Neal and Sidney Crosby down low.
Neal was flying around the ice and is preparing to play. Kunitz skated well during the session but it seemed that his right leg was nagging him a bit when he was moving lateral. Not definite that he goes tonight. Kunitz can be looked at as a true game time decision.

Simon Despres is expected to return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch vs the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Despres will be paired with Robert Bortuzzo and could see some second power play unit time.
Meanwhile, two of the Penguins top performing forwards vs the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday afternoon look to be healthy scratches tonight.

Jason Megna and Joe Vitale were extra’s during the skate. Vitale had a strong game vs Philadelphia, being very effective on the forecheck and did not take any line rushes during the morning skate. Megna scored a goal in Sunday’s loss but was also not a regular during line rushes.
There is talk this morning that Megna could be getting sent down this afternoon with the returns of Neal and Kunitz.
As I wrote Sunday, the Penguins should be attacking teams with their speed in the bottom-6, hence, making the likes of Vitale and Megna regulars.

Kunitz – Crosby – Stempniak
Jokinen – Malkin – Neal
Pyatt – Sutter – Adams
Glass – Goc – Gibbons
Extra’s: Vitale, Megna, Bennett
Brooks Orpik – Matt Niskanen
Olli Maatta – Rob Scuderi
Simon Despres – Robert Bortuzzo
Kris Letang – Deryk Engelland

Notes: Jeff Zatkoff was the first goaltender off the ice as he is expected to start in goal tonight…….Paul Martin skated before the morning skate today in the 9:00 a.m. hour……..Beau Bennett will not be under consideration to play tonight……Pittsburgh trails Boston by five points for the Eastern Conference Lead……

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William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

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

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