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Neal a more aggressive, efficient shooter

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By David Golebiewski
Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, 10:33 p.m.
 

James Neal might not skate in Sochi, Russia, next month, but the Team Canada snub is displaying Olympic-caliber aim during the 2013-14 season.

Neal, who missed a combined 20 contests due to an upper-body injury and a suspension, is making the most of his ice time by racking up 1.38 points per game, the highest total of his career and best in the NHL aside from Sidney Crosby (1.46).

Goalies, beware: When Neal gets the puck, he's gunning. The 26-year-old took about 3.4 shots per game during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign and has averaged 3.1 per game during his career, but he's firing at the net like no other Penguin this season. Neal is taking the third-most shots per game in the league, trailing only Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Winnipeg speedster Evander Kane.

Ready, aim ...

Player Team Spg.

Alex Ovechkin Capitals 5.5

Evander Kane Jets 4.3

James Neal Penguins 4.1

Jeff Carter Kings 4.0

Patrick Sharp Blackhawks 3.9

NHL Avg. for Forwards: 1.8Spg.=shots per game

Source: ESPN.com

The Penguins blitzkrieg opponents with Neal in the game, according to Corsi, which measures a team's total shot attempts (including missed and blocked shots) when a player is on the ice.

Per 20 minutes that Neal plays, the Penguins attempt almost 22 shots. That's highest on the club.

Player Corsi per 20 minutes

James Neal 21.6

Sidney Crosby 20.9

Chris Kunitz 20.6

Pascal Dupuis 20.4

Jussi Jokinen 20.2

Source: Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com

Neal's scoring uptick isn't just the product of taking aim more frequently — he also has become more efficient with his shots. He's lighting the lamp 15.9 percent of the time that he unleashes a shot, well above his career average (13.1 percent) and third-best on the Penguins behind Crosby (16.8 percent) and Chris Kunitz (17.3 percent).

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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