James Neal finds himself in an interesting dilemma as Sidney Crosby’s comeback draws closer.
The Pittsburgh Penguins right winger might be asked to play on a line with Crosby once the star centre is fully healthy – after all, that was the idea when general manager Ray Shero obtained the sniper in a trade with the Dallas Stars on Feb. 21, about six weeks after Crosby suffered the concussion that is keeping him out of the lineup.
With the Penguins, Neal scored only one goal in the last 20 games of the 2010-11 NHL regular season, plus one more in seven playoff games. However, this season, he has 11 goals in 17 games playing beside centre Evgeni Malkin.
If head coach Dan Bylsma asks him if he wants to play with Crosby, Neal admits he would have something to think about.
“No, I don’t think [it would happen] but why switch something that’s doing well?” he said after Monday’s practice, when it was announced Crosby will not play Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche.
Neal said he’s sure Crosby would prefer to go back to his regular wingers, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
However, Neal had the best of both worlds Monday, when Bylsma had Crosby skate on the left side with Neal and Malkin to fill in for the injured Steve Sullivan.
“Lucky, I know,” Neal said. “It was fun playing with those two. The way they move the puck is awesome.”
Sullivan and winger Tyler Kennedy, who’s been out since Oct. 16 with a concussion, may play Tuesday. Bylsma said the decision on both will be made at game time.
The Sid Watch now shifts to Florida.
After Tuesday’s game at the Consol Energy Centre, the Penguins leave for a two-game road trip against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
The guessing game will start all over again on Wednesday, although the Penguins say when Crosby is ready to play, they will announce it one day in advance.