Published on January 21st, 2013 | by James Conley0
Penguins Recap: James Neal Continues Hot Start in 6-3 Win
We may only be two games into the season, but in those two games the Penguins have taken four out of four possible points, established that they can stop pucks with a reengineered top-six and goaltending tandem and, maybe most importantly, have done half the work of leaving the Rangers and Flyers, two of their toughest opponents in the East and in the Atlantic, in an early tie for last place.
Tomas Vokoun got the win in his first start as a Penguin, stopping 31 of 34 shots against.
The Penguins have picked up where they left off a regular season ago, scoring at will and challenging for the top spot in the East. The Rangers, who took the conference crown by a single point over the Penguins in 2011-12, are the favorites to emerge from the East this season.
Going back to last year, the Penguins have now won five straight against the Rangers, planting 22 goals on them in that time.
The Penguins look like a team that’s fueled by its stars. As the season wears on, teams which rely more on systems play (like the Rangers) will round into form. The Penguins aren’t at the top of their game yet, but they’re much closer than a group which needs a full training camp and plenty of practice to settle into their wheelhouse. These Penguins-Rangers games will get more interesting deeper into the season (especially with that new top line of Nash-Richards-Gaborik), but recent history suggests the Pens match up well with the East favorites.
James Neal potted two goals Sunday, giving him three on the opening weekend. One of his two Sunday goals came from his new home on point in the Pens’ overload power play and he trails only Marian Hossa in goals league-wide.
Neal got off to a hot start last season, too, scoring nine goals in the team’s first 13 games. The chemistry between he and Malkin is established, and that new power play (already 4-for-8) has the personnel to be the best in the NHL by a mile. There’s no reason to believe Neal can’t challenge for the Rocket Richard Trophy this season after finishing fifth in goals scored a year ago.
Other notes: Tyler Kennedy, Matt Niskanen and Pascal Dupuis got their first goals of the year. Sidney Crosby got his first point assisting on Niskanen’s goal. Paul Martin had another strong night paired with Brooks Orpik. Eric Tangradi continues to be invisible on the Malkin line. At some point, the rotation of Dustin Jeffrey and Joe Vitale on the fourth line is just going to come down to Jeffrey on the second line and Tangradi on the bench. Simon Despres is experiencing some growing pains but the upside to his game is apparently enough to keep him in the lineup. Evgeni Malkin’s game has already been stellar. He has a league-leading four assists as well as four takeaways.
Post-game audio courtesy of Jason Seidling and the Penguins.