James Neal was changing his game. He finally can continue that Thursday night. Neal's five-game suspension is over, and he will play for the Penguins against Minnesota at Consol Energy Center. “I've only played in 16 games this year,” Neal said after a post-practice workout at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Actually, only 15 of those games featured him playing more than two shifts. In those, he produced 10 goals and as many assists — the best start to his six-season career, Neal said. That assessment was not based on statistics, which had him on pace for 42 goals and 84 points. Neal, a right winger, was more proud of improved play without the puck. He had worked on different methods for freeing himself from defenders, and it showed in his 5.6 shots attempted per game. He was at 4.4 last season. He also had worked on his defensive positioning, and that, coach Dan Bylsma said, showed better on video than in Neal's six credited takeaways. Neal he was credited with only 11 in 40 games last season. Neal suspects his early-season offensive production — following 61 goals in 120 previous games — pushed him into the conversations about Olympic candidates among Team Canada's executive committee. However, he was — and is — hoping to a secure a roster spot by showing a more complete game than the one befitting his sniper reputation.
Penguins winger Neal refining game, attitude
Pittsburgh Tribune Review | Dec 19