SUNDAY’S PENS BUZZ
(1) Playing for the first time since April 5th, James Neal returned with a bang Saturday night, recording a hat trick and adding an assist for a four point game. Prior to last night’s game, Neal previously had just 1 goal in his last 13 games and Neal continues to show that while he’s a good goal scorer regardless of who he plays with, he becomes a great goal scorer, one of the best in the game, when he’s paired with an elite playmaking center.
Neal has one of the most dangerous shots in the game and knows how to get to the perfect spots to be in goal scoring position like only a few premier goal scorers excel at, but Neal isn’t one of those players who creates his own shot well in 1-on-1 situations and that’s why he goes through some dry spells when he’s not playing with a top playmaking center or wing on his line.
Last night showed why Neal is an elite goal scorer when he has a center who can get him the puck in space. Lucky for the Penguins, most nights he does have one to play with.
“You play some games without the guy and without the shot and he steps right in and you realize how dangerous he is,” head coach Dan Bylsma said following last night’s 8-3 win. “We saw him get opportunities that maybe only James Neal can bury.”
(2) What stands out with Douglas Murray’s play and what he’s added to the Penguins is how he’s such a punishing player in clearing the front of the net.
I watched him very closely last night and Murray just wears down forwards with his size and strength and there was one sequence during the first period that caught my eye where the Hurricanes were sustaining pressure in the Penguins zone and Murray was just giving Jordan Staal a beating in front of the net as the 6-foot-4 Staal was trying to gain position in front on Murray and Staal could barely move Murray an inch.
(3) While Sidney Crosby’s injury played a big factor in the Penguins actually dealing for Jussi Jokinen, Penguin scouts deserve a lot of credit for Jokinen being a Penguin. About three weeks prior to the Penguins acquiring Jokinen on deadline day, I’m told top professional scout Don Waddell made the recommendation of Jokinen to management and from there he became a legitimate target for the organization.
Because Jokinen is not a rental player, the trade for Jokinen was one of those deals where GM Ray Shero relied on his scouts who strongly felt Jokinen would fit well in the Penguins system and what also made management comfortable in taking on $2.1 million of Jokinen’s $3 million cap hit in 2013-2014, is that Waddell and others feel Jokinen can also be an impact player on the wing and that could very well become Jokinen’s primary position on the team next season in the top-9.
Shero being sold on Jokinen’s versatility (to play wing & center) by the organization’s advanced scouts was a key. Jokinen has 7 goals and 11 points in 10 games as a Penguin.
(4) Despite what Dan Bylsma and Jarome Iginla say publicly, Iginla is clearly not comfortable on left wing. I’m sure Bylsma can see what we’re seeing but the Penguins want to keep the option open of having Iginla – Malkin – Neal as a line for when Sidney Crosby is ready to go which is the reason Iginla has been used extensively at left wing in the past week.
The issue for Iginla on left wing has been in transition where he’s getting flat footed and doesn’t have the ability to shield the puck like he can at right wing.
(5) A very positive sign for the Penguins going into the playoffs is that Evgeni Malkin seems to have some hop in his legs for the first time all season and is playing with some swagger where you get the sense that he could be ready to breakout in the playoffs and potentially play at the level he did during the 2011-2012 regular season. Does Malkin have a 2009 type playoff run in him? We’re about to find out.