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NHL disciplinary chief Brendan Shanahan suspended Pittsburgh Penguins forward James Neal five games, without pay, on Monday for kneeing Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand during last Saturday's game between the two NHL teams.

In issuing his verdict, Shanahan was clearly unimpressed by Neal's decision to go directly for Marchand's head, as the Boston player lay on the ice in a vulnerable position after he'd been tripped by Penguins centre Sidney Crosby.

"With a clear view of Marchand and plenty of time to avoid him, Neal skates directly through Marchand's head with his left knee," Shanahan said in a video explaining the ruling.

Shanahan went on to add: "While Neal does not kick or violently thrust his leg towards Marchand, it is our belief, after reviewing this incident, this is more serious than simply not avoiding contact with a fallen player. While looking down directly at Marchand, Neal turns his skates and extends his left leg ensuring that contact is made with Marchand's head."

The department of player safety announced the decision Monday afternoon because Neal's Penguins were scheduled to play the Columbus Blue Jackets Monday night.

Neal is eligible to return to the Pittsburgh lineup for a Dec. 19 game against the Minnesota Wild.

The play under review occurred 11 minutes 6 seconds into the first period of a wild, violent game, in which the Bruins also lost forward Loui Eriksson to a concussion and Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher after he was attacked by Bruins forward Shawn Thornton.

The referees assessed a minor penalty to Neal for kneeing on the play and based on his average annual salary, he will forfeit $128,205.15 (U.S.) to the players' emergency assistance fund.

Shanahan is currently in Monterey, Calif., presenting a report to the NHL board of governors on the status of player safety in the league.

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