CANONSBURG, Pa. -- Mario Lemieux's day-to-day status is stretching into weeks, and the Pittsburgh Penguins still don't have a good idea when he will be back.
They're hoping his sore hip starts feeling better later this week but, more realistically, are hoping for next week. But then it could be the week after, or maybe even longer.
"He's just resting and hopefully when he's ready, we can get him a couple of good practices," coach Rick Kehoe said Monday. "Hopefully, he starts skating shortly."
Lemieux hasn't played since Nov. 14 against the New York Islanders, his third game back after an unexpectedly short five-game layoff following arthroscopic hip surgery.
Lemieux, however, may have returned prematurely and his hip began hurting again. He has practiced only once in nearly three weeks, a short session Saturday with team doctors and trainers in which he was visibly in pain.
Penguins trainer Mark Mortland said Lemieux is growing impatient to return - "he's always impatient," he said - but it makes no sense for him to try to play when he isn't fully recovered.
Lemieux did not reinjure the hip when he returned, Mortland said, and is resting because that is the only way he can get better.
Lemieux plans to accompany the team on a four-game road trip that begins Thursday in San Jose, according to Kehoe.
"Hopefully, he doesn't get frustrated," Kehoe said. "We just want to make sure that when he comes back this time he's 100 percent. When he came back, maybe he wasn't 100 percent but he felt OK. And when you feel as good as he did and they give you the OK, you play."
Penguins forward Alexei Kovalev knows what Lemieux is going through - after all, he is going through it, too, after missing nearly a month following arthroscopic knee surgery.
Kovalev had consecutive three-goal games after returning Nov. 13 but hasn't had a goal in his last four games.
"It takes time to get your strength back, and the way you get the strength back is to play," he said. "It's going to be weak for a while, and the doctors said it takes 2 1/2 -3 months to get the full feeling back, and I've been expecting that. It's my third surgery on the same knee and I know how long it's going to be weak."
Even with Lemieux, Kovalev and Martin Straka (broken leg) out for extended stretches, the Penguins (9-9-3-2) are at .500 going into Tuesday night's game against New Jersey. They are 4-3-1 in the last eight games Lemieux has missed.
"If you had said we would be missing Kovy for an extended time, and Marty and Mario for basically the season, and we would be around .500 with the young guys playing in crucial times, I think you would take it," defenseman Ian Moran said. "But, as a team, you're not happy being .500 and seeing yourself near the bottom."
The Penguins trail the division-leading Islanders by 10 points, a not-insurmountable deficit. But, Lemieux or no Lemieux, they know they can't afford to look up in a month or six weeks and be 20 points behind with half the season gone.
"This is the time of year you want to establish yourself," Moran said. "The teams are done messing around with line combinations and seeing who can play and who can't. This is the time of the year when things get important."
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