'Geno' likes the puck, so I try to give it to him
Three quick hits with “The Real Deal” James Neal, the Penguins' 40-goal winger:
Q: This is Year 1 of a six-year deal worth $30 million. How does one handle the pressure of knowing he is a big part of a franchise's nucleus?
A: I can't see myself playing anywhere else. I came in and struggled a little bit at the start when I got traded here (from Dallas in 2011), but I kind of came into my own with (Penguins center Evgeni Malkin) last year. The systems we play here and the winning attitude – that's something I want to be a part of, and I'm glad I have the next six years.
Q: You and Malkin combined for 90 goals last season. What makes the two of you work?
A: I like to shoot it, and Geno, with how highly skilled he is, brings a lot of guys to him. He moves at a high speed and he's always making defenders come to him, which usually leaves a guy open. He's dangerous to shoot the puck so you've got to respect that, and when a goalie is respecting him to shoot that gives me a better opportunity to score. We just work off each other. He likes to have the puck a lot, so I try to give it to him. That's how we started off – I'd give him the puck, and then he gave it right back to me. We'd go from there.
Q: What specifically did you focus on with your offseason training at the hands of former Penguin Gary Roberts?
A: I always target getting faster. Speed is a huge part of this game, and if you want to play it for a long time you've got to be able to skate. It was a combination of lifts – power lifting, doing quick stuff for explosiveness. But at the same time I'm always working on my shot, trying to get it off quicker, harder. Our coaches are great. They give you a lot of things to work on every day, and that's helped me a lot.