It was nice to see Jordan Staal get a goal Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center, his first in eight games. It started the Penguins down the path to a 4-2 win against the New Jersey Devils that went a long way toward clinching at least fourth place in the Eastern Conference and home-ice advantage for a first-round playoff series.
It was even better that Staal's first-period goal came on the Penguins' power play, which had been lights out for too long.
Lights out -- as in no power. It was in an absurd 3-for-66 slump over 20-plus games when Staal snuck behind Devils defenseman Mark Fraser and lifted the puck over goaltender Johan Hedberg. How absurd was it, you ask? The Penguins scored four short-handed goals during those same 20-plus games.
As a topper, it was great that James Neal and Alex Kovalev got the assists on Staal's goal. The Penguins waited a long time to get an offensive contribution from their two trade-deadline acquisitions. Other than shootout goals, that is.
Now if Neal and Kovalev can just start to score a few goals of their own ...
They have to start scoring goals if the Penguins are going to make any kind of a playoff run.
That's especially true of Neal, who has been a disappointment since coming to the Penguins with defenseman Matt Niskanen in the Feb. 21 trade with Dallas for defenseman Alex Goligoski. He's played hard. He's played a physical game. He's had a decent share of scoring chances. He's hit a few posts and crossbars.
But he's had a hard time finding the back of the net. He has just one goal in 19 games with the Penguins, not counting his two winning shootout goals. That's not good enough for a man who was brought here to score goals.
"He was not brought here to score goals," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said, fairly biting off his words before the Devils game. "He was brought here because he's a good young hockey player. He has too many qualities going for him for me to be concerned about him. You don't see many guys with his size and youth who can release the puck like he can. I'm certain he's going to be a very good player here."
You might guess that Shero wasn't the slightest bit interested in hearing any comparisons between Neal and Alexei Ponikarovsky, the Penguins' trade-deadline pickup last season. Ponikarovsky was a major bust.
Nice night for Staal; still hope for Neal
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Apr 6