It all seems so obvious now.

Sure, there might have been a time -- say, just over 11 minutes into what would become a 3-2 loss Saturday night in Boston -- when Penguins winger James Neal figured, however briefly, that driving a knee into the head of Bruins forward Brad Marchand wasn't such a terrible idea.

Most of the Penguins view Marchand with a level of esteem usually reserved for foot fungus and Flyers, and there was a chance any contact Neal made with Marchand's skull while Marchand was off his feet would have been deemed inadvertent. But the officials saw what Neal did and immediately assessed a minor penalty.

More important, TV cameras also caught that sequence -- from multiple angles, no less -- and the footage made its way to Brendan Shanahan, who handles supplemental discipline for the NHL.

After, or perhaps before, speaking with Neal on the telephone Monday, Shanahan concluded that a five-game suspension would give Neal adequate time to reflect on his misdeed.

Which Neal apparently has done because, when the Penguins' practice Tuesday at Consol Energy Center ended, he volunteered that slamming into Marchand's head was "not the smartest decision I ever made."

Neal sat out the Penguins' 2-1 victory Monday against Columbus and won't be eligible to return until a home game Dec. 19 against Minnesota, but what troubles the Penguins most is that this is the third time a lapse in judgment has earned Neal some unpaid time off. If that's not a trend, it's perilously close, which is why coach Dan Bylsma made it clear that the Penguins would like to reprogram Neal, at least a little.

They don't want to strip the aggressiveness from his game -- it's part of the reason he's one of the league's most lethal goal-scorers -- but they do want it to be channeled more effectively. Which is to say, not through a knee or an elbow or a high stick.

"There needs to be some education there," coach Dan Bylsma said. "There needs to be some learning in how he needs to play the game and how he can play the game.