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BLOG: Neal starts strong

James Neal notched his first two-goal game as an Oiler on Saturday, beginning his tenure with the Orange & Blue in fine form

by Paul Gazzola /

EDMONTON, AB - It's amazing the amount of confidence a two-goal performance can breed.

For James Neal, who notched two power-play markers in the Oilers 6-5 win in over a roller-coaster ride versus the Kings on Saturday, it means a lot. 

The 10-time 20-goal scorer made an impact in just his second game with his new club after tallying just seven goals with the Calgary Flames in 2018-19. 

Last year was an anomaly for Neal statistically and the winger is convinced he will return to form with the Orange & Blue. Saturday's performance proving as much.

"It's for sure a good start," Neal said Sunday following practice. 

No stranger to the demanding nature of being a point producer, Neal admitted there's always pressure to generate.

"I put pressure on myself every year to score goals," Neal, who has 272 career tucks, said. "I feel like if you want to be a top guy, if you want to be a goal scorer, you're going to have that pressure. That's good pressure."

Both Neal and goaltender Mike Smith made the move from Calgary to Edmonton over the summer, and both are working to be gamers for their new club. Thus far, Smith has filed two W's into the win column while Neal's finishing ability has been a welcomed addition to Edmonton's power play.

"He's rejuvenated," Smith said of Neal. "Both James and I are trying to come in and bring a different mentality, and some different leadership qualities. Nealer's done that so far."

During their off-season workouts, Smith saw first-hand how driven Neal was to join the Oilers and become a contributor.

Video: OILERS TODAY | Real Deal 10.06.19

"You can tell in his body language that he's here to make an impact on this group," he said. "He's done that so far and he'll continue to do that throughout the season." 

Incumbent Oilers have also taken notice.

"He has a fire to his game," said forward Jujhar Khaira.

"He likes throwing the body and he loves going to the net. Yesterday was a big game for him. He gained some confidence out of that and he's going to continue to play the way he is."

Neal's been typified as a shooter during his tenure in the League but the 32-year-old is determined to net greasy goals this season. Both of his man-advantage markers against the Kings came from just outside the crease.

"As a shooter, you tend to sometimes rely on your shot a little bit too much," Neal said. 

"You find yourself away from the net a little bit too much and that's when maybe you're not scoring as much. With Leon (Draisaitl), Connor (McDavid), Nuge (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) and Klef (Oscar Klefbom) shooting it from the point, you're going to get opportunities to get rebounds and clean up some different stuff around the crease."

It's been a solid beginning for the former Calgary Flame, who will look to continue his play on the Oilers upcoming four-game road swing.

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