The old standard tells us that Father Time is undefeated. But on a team where 39-year-old Mike Smith is having a career season, you can forgive James Neal for wondering if that old cliché applied to everyone, or just to him?
Neal’s feet tell him he’s getting older. And he is, at age 33.
The Edmonton Oilers coaching staff voted with their lineup sheets, sequestering the 33-year-old on the taxi squad for much of the season.
But when you look at the crop of Edmonton wingers who have played above him for most of this season, it is fair to wonder if Neal can’t provide an upgrade as his favourite time of year arrives?
As things begin to get real, it appears, The Real Deal is ready and raring to go.
“I’ve played a lot of playoff games (108), and I’ve played a lot of big games (two Cup Finals),” Neal said. “I’ve been through those runs and I know what it takes to get there, what it takes to score in the playoffs, and how you’ve got to win.
“As we go here, I’ll just continue to get better.”
You’ve got to fight for your space, come playoff time. You’ve got to soften up opposing defencemen on the forecheck, whenever you get a chance.
Physicality becomes a bigger part of things, and when you look at the Oilers' left-wingers — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Dominik Kahun, Devin Shore, Joakim Nygard, Tyler Ennis, perhaps Gaetan Haas when Jujhar Khaira returns — it’s fair to say Edmonton is light on the left side.