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Neal excited for chance to contend, play with Sid

by Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH -- James Neal arrived at Consol Energy Center to discover his locker located next to Sidney Crosby's. It's only temporary -- for now, it was the only space available in the Pittsburgh Penguins' dressing room.

Neal, acquired from the Dallas Stars with defenseman Matt Niskanen for defenseman Alex Goligoski, no doubt would prefer to play alongside Crosby. That's not possible at the moment, as Crosby remains out with a concussion, but Neal hopes that's only temporary, too.

Players often expect the worst and hope for the best when any trade is made. Neal said this deal couldn't have worked out any better, as he moves to a team that figures to be a Stanley Cup contender for years. It's also one blessed with two of the NHL's best players in Crosby and the also-injured Evgeni Malkin.

Even if -- and this figures to be temporary, too -- Neal becomes the leading goal scorer among active Penguins players with 21. He is second with 39 points to Kris Letang's 45. Malkin is out for the season following knee surgery but is expected to return for training camp in September.

"If you should get traded, there's no better team to come to," Neal said after going through his first practice Wednesday in preparation for Wednesday's game against the San Jose Sharks (7:30 p.m, VERSUS). "It's a real exciting time."

Exciting, but with a touch of nervousness in learning a new team's system and strategy on the fly. He and Niskanen were delayed in getting to Pittsburgh on Tuesday due to a heavy snowstorm, although they went on the ice after arriving in town late in the day. They also took physicals and watched some video.

The morning skate offered the first chance for Neal to mesh with Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy, who are penciled in as his linemates.

Coach Dan Bylsma didn't try to get too technical with either player, although he asked Brooks Orpik and several other defensemen to further indoctrinate Niskanen into Pittsburgh's system.

Bylsma also told each not to try to do too much, too soon. What he wants from Neal, a three-time 20-goal scorer, is obvious -- develop more consistency. Neal has one goal in his last 11 games.

"Be a handful," Bylsma said. "Work on bringing a physical, offensive zone presence all the time."

"I want to do the same thing I've done throughout my career, and obviously that's put the puck in the net," the 23-year-old Neal said. "There's no added pressure to do that. Hopefully, I'll find a way."

Among the first to welcome Neal to his new team was Crosby, who sent him a text message.

"Hopefully, he gets back soon," Neal said. "I can't say enough. I'm so excited."
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