James Neal wasn't able to make it to town in time for the Penguins' practice Tuesday. That is what happens when a plane that's supposed to land in Pittsburgh gets diverted to New Jersey, and a connecting flight sits in Newark long after it was supposed to touch down in Western Pennsylvania. That was a tough break because it means Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen, acquired from Dallas for defenseman Alex Goligoski Monday, won't have much time to get acclimated to their new team and surroundings before facing San Jose tonight at Consol Energy Center. But much as the Penguins would have liked to have Neal for their workout Tuesday, they could have used him even more 15 or so hours earlier. That's when they lost to Washington, 1-0, mostly because they weren't able to get any of 39 shots past goalie Michal Neuvirth. There aren't many goal-scorers in the Penguins' lineup these days -- their top three in the Capitals game have combined for 33, one more than Sidney Crosby managed in 41 games before being sidelined by a concussion -- and the Penguins will be counting on Neal will bolster that glaring weakness. He had 21 goals in 59 games with the Stars before being traded and has averaged one every three games during his two-plus seasons in the NHL. Not Brett Hull numbers, perhaps, but enough to have a positive impact on his new club. "He could have been the difference [Monday] night in a game in which we think we did a lot of good things, but we didn't get a puck across the goal line," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's a guy who would fit right into the way we played that game and be able to add, I think." Bylsma described Neal, who is 6 feet 2, 208 pounds as essentially a larger, more offensively polished, version of Chris Kunitz, who has been the Penguins' first-line left winger for most of the past two years. "He's not a lot different that Chris Kunitz," Bylsma said. "Maybe more of a goal-scorer, a heavier shot than Chris Kunitz, a bigger guy than Chris Kunitz and maybe more of an offensive-zone presence. He can be a real force down low." So can Jordan Staal, who Bylsma plans to deploy between Neal and Tyler Kennedy.
Neal is what the Penguins need
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Feb 23