Penguins' Neal apologizes, vows to be better
James Neal is not Matt Cooke.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma made that clear Tuesday, insisting there were “no parallels” between the two most punished wingers of his tenure.
However, Bylsma also noted that Neal — as did Cooke three years ago — needs to recognize the thin line between aggressive and aggression for an NHL player.
“There needs to be some education there; there needs to be some learning in how he plays the game and how he can play the game,” Bylsma said.
“He's a (former) 40-goal scorer. He has to be able to play, and play that way without crossing the line.”
The NHL suspended Neal for five games Monday. Player Safety vice president Brendan Shanahan referenced Neal's history as something he could not ignore when ruling on the supplemental discipline for the knee that Neal delivered to the head of Boston's Brad Marchand on Saturday night.
Neal is on his third suspension in a sixth season, and his second dating to Round 1 of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Neal publicly accepted his punishment Tuesday. He also apologized for his act against Marchand and dismissive remarks after the game at Boston that irked Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero.
“Right after the game my emotions aren't settled, and I hadn't had a chance to look at what I did,” Neal said Tuesday. “Going back, I would have answered things a lot differently, but I can't.
“I'm going to learn from that. You kind of let your emotions get the better of you. It's something I need to be better with.”
Bylsma also said he wanted Neal to better control his emotions on the ice.
Neal noted that his suspensions have come after he could not stay composed against players with whom he had history — specifically Marchand and Philadelphia's Claude Giroux (2012).
Still, the Penguins have no plans to treat Neal as they did Cooke, who after a 17-game suspension to end his 2010-11 season was welcomed back to the organization only on the condition he adopt a safer style of play.
Cooke spent weeks watching videos of his hits and those by other players with Bylsma during the summer of 2011. His final two seasons with the Penguins passed without a supplemental discipline hearing, though there was a belief within the organization that Cooke's new style was less imposing and impactful.
Bylsma does not want that for Neal, whose eagerness to battle for pucks and play in tight quarters has contributed to the 71 goals he has scored the past three seasons. Only captain Sidney Crosby and fellow franchise center Evgeni Malkin command more against the Penguins' salary cap than Neal ($5 million).
At Consol Energy Center, where practice was open to about 8,000 local students, another message was delivered to Neal.
Players were introduced over the public address system. Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang received boisterous ovations from the students. All Penguins were cheered to some extent.
Neal was too, but noticeable were a few boos amid an underwhelming reaction to him taking the ice.
Neal is one of a select group of players the Penguins market heavily across the region. He also recently started charity work with the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania.
Most often, the sound of his name elicits enthusiasm from Penguins fans old and young.
Backed by his teammates, Neal vowed to move on from his incident with Marchand and this suspension.
“Obviously, it's not the smartest decision I've ever made,” Neal said.
“There's really no excuses for it. I can't do it. I've got to be better from it.”