Penguins' Neal shoots low, aims high
ST. PAUL, Minn. — James Neal's formula for finding the back of the net seems glaringly obvious: Shooting low is good, shooting high bad.
In the Penguins' eight games, he has six goals — most on the team and one behind NHL leader Phil Kessel of Toronto — and all have come on low shots. His shooting percentage is an outstanding 18.8.
After being acquired from Dallas at the trade deadline last season, he scored just two goals in 27 games while shooting almost exclusively high. His shooting percentage was 2.7, a figure that would make a stay-at-home defenseman cringe, much less a first-line left winger.
Still, Neal insists no change in his approach was made, and no change is forthcoming.
"Nothing to it at all," he said Tuesday in the visitors' locker room at Xcel Energy Center before the Penguins' 4-2 victory over Minnesota. "I've scored my goals low, but I'm still taking my high shots. I'd say 90 percent of the shots I'm taking are still high."
It's simply what comes naturally, he said.
"It's just the way it comes off my stick. I'm not sure why. Some guys have a good shot to the five-hole, some guys have it for low on the blocker side. I find that mine is high glove side."
Fellow forward Matt Cooke, seated at the next stall, playfully interjected, "Hey, don't give out all your secrets."
Neal laughed and completed his thought.
"Honestly, I just go where the opportunity is," he said. "On these goals, the opportunities have been low."
Even though Neal's successful shots all have been along ice level, there has been much variety otherwise: In Vancouver, he stuffed a severe-angle shot between Roberto Luongo's pads. Against Washington, he one-timed a cross-ice feed from the right dot before Tomas Vokoun could move across his crease. Tuesday, he collected a loose puck in the neutral zone, went full steam over the Minnesota blue line on a two-on-one and whipped a wrister from the left hash past goaltender Niklas Backstrom.
To Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, Neal's prowess has been much more about skating — he has exceptional speed for someone 6-foot-2, 208 pounds — than shot placement.
"What James brings that's most dangerous is his ability to skate and still shoot the puck hard," Bylsma said. "He's gotten his goals a lot of different ways, and I think that's because he's put his speed into his shot. It doesn't matter if it's going high glove or wherever. It's about the skating."
Bylsma described the goal Tuesday, one in which Backstrom barely budged, "all skating and release, a goal-scorer's quick shot."
He also cited a play Monday in Winnipeg, where Neal burst into the Jets' slot for a wrist shot that clanged off the post.
"Same thing. Just didn't go in."
This flourish isn't likely to last. For one, his current pace is for 60 goals. For another, Neal has a history of being a strong starter with 19 goals in his past 32 October games, but he never has topped 27 in a season, that coming in 2009-10 with the Stars.
In the meantime, Neal virtually is certain to raise expectations.
"That's all right, as long as the team is winning," he said. "I'll do everything I can to help the team win. If it means putting the puck in the net, that's part of the game, too."
3 TO WATCH
Opposing players to keep an eye on over the next week:
PK Subban, Canadiens, D
He already is a minus-5 after finishing last season at minus-8.
Petr Sykora, Devils, RW
After a year away from NHL, he is off to a slow start (no goals).
Al Montoya, Islanders, G
A .953 save percentage through three games has given him go-to status.
Developments from around the NHL:
The Blue Jackets can't shop C Derrick Brassard, who is now on the first line because of C Jeff Carter's injury. Aaron Portzline, Columbus Dispatch
An infusion of younger players has limited the ice time of frustrated Flyers LW Scott Hartnell, who holds a "no movement" clause in his contract. Frank Seravalli, Philadelphia Daily News
Colorado's impending restricted free agents, C Matt Duchene and D Erik Johnson, might not have their contracts renegotiated until this summer. Bob McKenzie, TSN
Penguins D Zbynek Michalek shares thoughts on...
Going 1-on-1 with elite scorers:
"That's my job. That's why I came here, to be a defensive defenseman against those guys like (Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin)."
His strategy against Ovechkin:
"I'm not going to overwhelm anyone physically. I try to play a good positioning game, take away his options and keep him to the outside. I can't let him make those quick little plays in our zone."
His stick work in the D-zone:
"If you knock the puck away from a guy, there is nothing he can do. Gap starts mostly with skating ... then you can use your stick as much as possible."
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.
- Penguins get their man in making trade with Toronto for Kessel
- Starkey: Rutherford hits jackpot with Kessel
- Penguins notebook: Rutherford proves savvy in deal
- Penguins notebook: Sheary hoping to return to organization
- Defenseman Martin’s agent planning meeting with Penguins at draft
- Starkey: Kessel worth Penguins’ inquiry
- Downie, Ehrhoff lead list of likely Penguins leaving in free agency
- Shopping season starts up for Penguins amid onset of free agency
- Examining the draft trends of the last 3 Penguins GMs
- Rossi: Gonchar is what Pens need
- Scouts think Penguins could regain luster with minor tinkering