Penguins winger Neal refining game, attitude
NEW YORK — James Neal was changing his game. He finally can continue that Thursday night.
Neal's five-game suspension is over, and he will play for the Penguins against Minnesota at Consol Energy Center.
“I've only played in 16 games this year,” Neal said after a post-practice workout at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.
Actually, only 15 of those games featured him playing more than two shifts. In those, he produced 10 goals and as many assists — the best start to his six-season career, Neal said.
That assessment was not based on statistics, which had him on pace for 42 goals and 84 points. Neal, a right winger, was more proud of improved play without the puck.
He had worked on different methods for freeing himself from defenders, and it showed in his 5.6 shots attempted per game. He was at 4.4 last season.
He also had worked on his defensive positioning, and that, coach Dan Bylsma said, showed better on video than in Neal's six credited takeaways. Neal he was credited with only 11 in 40 games last season.
Neal suspects his early-season offensive production — following 61 goals in 120 previous games — pushed him into the conversations about Olympic candidates among Team Canada's executive committee.
However, he was — and is — hoping to a secure a roster spot by showing a more complete game than the one befitting his sniper reputation.
“I feel I can do different things, that I have different aspects to my game,” Neal said. “The stuff away from the puck, even what you're doing to prepare before and after games, all goes into helping you get the chances and have the success you're striving for.”
Neal also is striving to change the public perception that he is a dirty player and distinguish the line between aggressive and aggression that he has crossed more than once. He has served three suspensions and once paid a fine for actions deemed unsuitable by NHL Player Safety.
Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero, while insisting Neal's situation is not like the one faced by former winger Matt Cooke, have said Neal must alter his on-ice behavior.
Cooke, by coincidence, returns to Pittsburgh with Minnesota on Thursday night.
Cooke has not faced supplemental discipline from the NHL since spending summer 2011 learning new ways to hit by watching more than 20 hours of video with Bylsma.
The Penguins — forget the NHL — let Cooke know then that they would not tolerate more egregious on-ice behavior.
The Penguins have not had that stern of a conversation with Neal, who reiterated Wednesday that he is aware he must better control his emotions.
Sporting a cut above his left eye from a high-sticking incident during a recent practice, Neal stressed that moving on from kneeing Brad Marchand in the head is the best way he can help himself and a Penguins squad without seven regulars, including center Evgeni Malkin (left leg) and winger Beau Bennett (broken wrist).
“I felt like I was playing the best hockey of my career in the 16 games I played in,” Neal said. “That made it even tougher to sit out.
“I just want to come back with the same approach.”
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.
- Timing drives former KHL star Plotnikov
- Penguins notebook: Crosby most excited by Kessel’s footspeed
- Crosby’s off-ice life hardly reflects that of a superstar
- Sestito ready to fight for job on Penguins
- Penguins defenseman Oleksy brings nasty streak, toughness
- Ex-Penguin Kennedy skates with former teammates, hopes to catch on with a team
- Penguins’ Johnston: Kessel, Crosby likely to open season together