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Neal debuts on Penguins' top line

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
 

James Neal, the Penguins' newest hope to fill their need for a long-term impact winger, scored a considerable endorsement Wednesday morning.

"I've (always) liked him," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "He's a good player."

A left wing with at least 20 goals in three NHL seasons, Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen were acquired from Dallas on Monday in exchange for defenseman Alex Goligoski. In his first game with the Penguins last night against the San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center, Neal skated on a line with center Jordan Staal and right wing Pascal Dupuis.

Neal's 21 goals were the most among active Penguins, nine more than right wing Tyler Kennedy had scored before facing the Sharks. In addition to jumping onto the top line, Neal also was inserted as the net-front presence on the top power-play unit.

Before all of that, he chatted with the local media. Here are highlights from that scrum:

Q: Has knowing you are part of the Penguins' long-term plans made this transition easier for you?

A: Yeah, when you feel welcome it's flattering to come into that environment. Just to see the facility and atmosphere here, it's been great. It was a shock to get traded, but I'm so excited to come to this team.

Q: You are now the Penguins' leading active goal scorer. This team has had trouble scoring goals because of all the injuries. What kind of pressure does that place on you?

A: I'm just going to come in and do the same thing I've done throughout my career. Obviously, I want to put the puck in the net, but there's no added pressure. I've talked to the coaches, and they just want me to play my game.

Q: How much of a challenge was it just getting to Pittsburgh?

A: Yeah, travel was tough. The airport was shut down here. We flew into New York and got an early flight out (Tuesday). We came right to the rink, did the physicals and got that out of the way, did some video and had a late skate.

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