NHL Insider: Penguins have no problem playing it tough
James Neal is known for his big shot not big hits.
That is not to suggest he will shy away from trying the latter.
Real-time statistics — hits, giveaways and takeaways, specifically — are fairly denounced by all NHL general managers and coaches, but Neal was credited with four hits in a victory that opened the Penguins' Round 2 playoff series against Ottawa on Tuesday.
The Penguins were credited with 40 hits, and they rated fourth among remaining Stanley Cup playoffs clubs with 219 hits before games played Wednesday.
Neal said after an optional practice at Consol Energy Center that opponents are still taken aback by the Penguins' willingness to play a physical brand of hockey.
“We like to play like that and try to catch teams off guard,” Neal said. “We are a fast team, come hard, and we can be physical.”
The Senators advanced to this Eastern Conference semifinal partly because they pushed around Montreal's skilled-but-smaller forwards in Round 1. Ottawa was credited with an average of about 36 hits in that series.
The Senators were credited with 26 hits in Game 1 on Tuesday.
Senators coach Paul MacLean's concern must be that a game heavy with hitting — Game 1 featured a combined 66 credited hits — could turn into a battle of special teams. That would favor the Penguins, who began Wednesday first in power play and second in penalty kill among remaining clubs.
Senators right winger Chris Neal said he and teammates need to “finish a guy, just stick with him” in Game 2 on Friday night.
Of course, the Penguins' most skilled forwards, centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, prefer contact because their ability to absorb it while protecting the puck allows them to create space.
Also, in-season acquisitions of Brenden Morrow, right winger Jarome Iginla and defenseman Douglas Murray were made with an eye toward toughening up the Penguins.
This is not a group that will be pushed around successfully by any opponent.
However, this is a group that was extended to six games in Round 1 because the New York Islanders pushed the pace.