The Pittsburgh Penguins suffered yet another blow Friday night. It seems of late, Pittsburgh's key players are dropping like flies. The lastest is James Neal, who looked dazed after taking an elbow square to the chin from New York Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto.
With 8:42 remaining in regulation, both players went after a puck. Del Zotto chipped the puck away, but the players collided. Del Zotto's elbow caught Neal, leaving the Penguins sniper woozy on the ice. At one point it appeared he asked the athletic trainer what had happened.
Neal did not return to the game, which is of big concern for a team that is already without Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Paul Martin. That's four of Pittsburgh's top seven scorers, which is essentially impossible to adequately replace. Also, if Neal's apparent head injury turns out to be a concussion, it's anyone's guess how soon he could return.
This is a hit that's going to get the attention of the department of player safety.
In real time, it appears Del Zotto is expecting to get hit, but tries to establish contact as well, giving Neal the worst of it. However, in slow motion, it looks as though Del Zotto is trying to prevent Neal from getting around him and in doing so connects visciously with his elbow.
With the limited angles provided on the broadcast, it's difficult to be certain of Del Zotto's intent. Brendan Shanahan and his staff will likely be wearing out the rewind button with this one.
Depending on how you look at it, there could be a case made for incidental contact, however the apparent injury to Neal could change things. Is it a hockey play gone wrong or an intentional elbow?
Del Zotto maintained after the game, which the Penguins won 2-1 in a shootout, that he was simply trying to brace for the hit and didn't know what happened, but hoped that Neal was OK.
Either way, this is a hit that requires careful examination. If the department of player safety finds that this was preventable, it may bring a hearing at the least and would likely lead to supplemental discipline. Rightly or wrongly, Neal's apparent injury will figure prominently in the thought process.
Del Zotto might want to keep his phone handy Saturday.