Neal's solid play soon could pay off on scoresheet for Penguins
OTTAWA — Evgeni Malkin predicted the future Tuesday.
He envisions James Neal busting out of his goal funk.
“Yeah,” Malkin said Tuesday after a practice at Scotiabank Place.
“Something big. Soon.”
Neal has gone five consecutive games without a goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs, where he has scored only once in seven contests.
He has contributed in other ways against the Ottawa Senators in Round 2.
In the Penguins' Game 3 loss, Neal, a winger, carried the puck across the blue line more than Malkin, a center. In their Game 1 win, he was credited with four hits.
In the series, which the Penguins lead, 2-1, with Game 4 on Wednesday night, Neal has attempted 16 shots.
“He's had about six scoring chances from the same spot that almost look identical to each other,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “Being in the area, having a good look at the net — pretty much in every game, he's had those chances to do that.
“It's hasn't gone in for him. Those are good looks there. He just needs one of those to go in.”
Neal is a more complete player than his reputation suggests, though his reputation as an elite sniping winger was earned by opening his NHL career with at least 20 goals in each of his five seasons.
That included 21 goals in 40 games this past regular season, which already was shortened because of the NHL lockout.
Neal is “great at scoring,” by the estimation of Malkin, who has averaged a goal in almost every other game in the NHL.
Still, he has scored a goal in only three of 21 games dating to the regular season, producing only five markers over that span. Neal missed 10 games, two in the playoffs, during that stretch.
The Penguins have won 18 of those contests, and Neal has factored in ways not always obvious to outsiders.
Jarome Iginla, a 500-goal scorer who joined the Penguins in March, said Neal has gone above and beyond to help his transition. That started with Neal offering — without Bylsma's knowledge — to switch back to the left side so that Iginla, a lifer on the right wing, would feel more comfortable in his Penguins debut.
Neal, 25, has not stopped serving as a tutor for Iginla, his elder by a decade.
During film sessions and on the ice in practices, Neal continues to point out intricacies of Bylsma's system, parts of which play favorably to opposite-handed shooters on the off-wing.
He also has shared the secrets to successfully communicating with Malkin, his regular center for the last two seasons.
Neal has quietly become a trusted member of the Penguins' nucleus, and not simply because the franchise has committed to him at a $5 million annual salary for the next five seasons.
He never ducks the media, often organizes team outings on road trips — and, notably, has not once taken issue with being rotated on and off the first power-play unit, even though he has scored 27 goals on the advantage the past two years.
For all those reasons, teammates including dressing-room leader Pascal Dupuis to captain Sidney Crosby had Neal's back Tuesday when conversation turned toward his current goal-scoring struggles.
Brooks Orpik, the Penguins' longest-tenured player, did similarly during the 2011 playoffs, when Neal scored only one goal — albeit an overtime winner — for a Penguins squad that played without Crosby and Malkin.
Neal said Tuesday he learned that postseason not to focus on his scoring, but instead on his overall play. That overall play is the reason for Malkin's sunny outlook for Neal.
“Last game, he used speed to beat (defenders) one on one,” Malkin said. “He looked comfortable, was hitting. When ‘Nealer' does that, (his) confidence is good.
“Forwards need confidence to score. He has confidence now. Soon he will score. Soon.”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Healthy again, Penguins’ Dupuis eager for game action
- Penguins notebook: Wild beat Pens behind Pominville’s hat trick
- Penguins notebook: Scuderi OK with new defensive system
- Ex-assistant Granato: No animosity toward Penguins
- Penguins’ Kapanen bolsters chance to make team in exhibition win
- With analytics, NHL is whole new game
- Penguins notebook: Consol ice still a matter of concern
- Penguins notebook: Injury to sideline Bennett 6 weeks
- Veteran right winger Adams fighting for roster spot with Penguins
- Penguins notebook: Ex-teammate Cooke says ‘I feel for’ Shero, Bylsma
- Wings coach Babcock does not hide affection for Penguins’ Crosby