James Neal: Hottest Player in the NHL?

One of the more entertaining parts to a young regular season has been watching James Neal go blow-for-blow with Phil Kessel for the NHL goal scoring lead. Neal scored his 7th goal of the campaign last night as he hit the post and saw a shot trickle over the line before Carey Price could nab the puck.

A lot has been made of what Neal might be doing differently and the fact that he’s typically a hot starter to the season that cools off as winter rolls around.

The simple fact of the matter is that Neal isn’t doing a thing differently. The puck just happens to be going in the net. Hockey can be a game of good and bad bounces, and last year James Neal was as snakebit as Steve Sullivan is right now.

That being said, the one thing that might enable James Neal to continue this torrid pace is the return of the big centers that are currently out of the line-up. It’s worth noting that James Neal is shouldering the load for the Penguins right now. When Crosby and Malkin return to the lineup, Neal will be playing with two of the best centers in the world on a regular basis.

If there’s anything that can ensure that a goal scoring streak continues, it’s the presence of those two premier forwards.

Penguins Physicality Making it’s Mark

Dan Bylsma’s system was executed to perfection last night. The Penguins got the puck deep, made the defense turn around, and generated turnovers in the offensive zone.

Remember, Bylsma expects the Penguins to play “investment hockey” – essentially saying that every hit the Penguins lay throughout the game might not directly generate a goal, but getting in the heads of the opposition with your grit is something that pays off in the long run.

A quick survey of the top hitters in the NHL right now shows that the Penguins are back to their form from last season.

One notable absence from that list is Matt Cooke. It’ll be interesting to see how his new approach to the game impacts those numbers throughout the year. In Minnesota, Cal Clutterbuck is experiencing a similar issue. Both Cooke and Clutterbuck are under the NHL’s watchful eye having both garnered a reputation for dirty plays. Have they changed so much that we won’t find them at the top of this list?

Fleury Just Doing His Thing

Marc-Andre Fleury played 58 minutes of shut-out hockey last night. However, you wouldn’t know it by what the fans and media are chatting about right now.

Fleury shut the door on Matheiu Darche in the midst of a shorthanded breakaway early in the game. That save allowed the Penguins the opportunity to get on the board first and keep the game under control.

Fleury’s 166 saves on the year is good for first overall in the NHL.

Stay tuned for more coverage throughout the weekend as we get you ready for the first Atlantic Division tilt of the year as the New Jersey Devils make their way to CONSOL Energy Center on Saturday night.

The Devils will be without Martin Brodeur, who is still recovering from a shoulder injury, but Zach Parise will be back in the lineup for new head coach Peter DeBoer.

The Devils were 0-3 inside CONSOL last year, hopefully that trend can continue as Johan Hedberg is the likely starter for that game on Saturday.