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Friday, December 31, 2010
Jordan Staal's status uncertain

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

PITTSBURGH -- Like the game itself, Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal's availability for Saturday's Winter Classic is in a state of flux.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero told ESPN.com that Staal has been medically cleared to play, but Staal missed training camp and the first 39 regular-season games, making his conditioning a concern. He will remain a game-time decision.

Staal joined his teammates Friday morning for their first and only practice at the temporary sheet of ice at Heinz Field, and in fact lost a shootout competition at the end of the workout.

Jo. Staal
Jo. Staal

With Saturday's game time pushed back to 8 p.m. ET, the Penguins and Capitals both will take a traditional morning skate at Consol Energy Center. That might be enough for Staal to make his first appearance in a Penguins jersey since a skate sliced a tendon in his foot during the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last season.

He suffered a setback in coming back from the foot injury and missed training camp. Then, when he was about to return, he suffered a broken right hand after being hit by a shot during practice. He had surgery for that injury Nov. 2.

"Considering the fact that it's his first game coming up and hasn't had a training camp and has gone through the injuries, it maybe makes it more difficult versus if he'd been at training camp, played 20 games and you know missed 15," coach Dan Bylsma told reporters Friday afternoon.

"It's tough to figure out where to put a guy back in who hasn't had a training camp and hasn't played, confidence level with the injuries that he's had and you know that he's coming off of are issues," he said.

Staal, who didn't meet with reporters Friday after the team's workout and family skate, is one of the game's best defensive forwards and was a key contributor to the Penguins' Stanley Cup run in 2009.

When he does return to action, he is expected to center a line with Evgeni Malkin, also a natural center, playing the wing, Bylsma said. He said he wouldn't expect Staal to assume his natural workload of 19 to 20 minutes a night.

"I can see him jumping right into 14 to 16 minutes, penalty killing and playing center with Malkin on the wing," Bylsma said.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.