'The Real Deal' James Neal scores four times in a 5-2 win for the Oilers that marks three-straight wins to begin the season
UNIONDALE, NY - The Real Deal. That's it, that's the lede.
James Neal scored four goals in a game for the first time in his NHL career and became the first Oilers player to score six goals in the team's first three games of the season as Edmonton opened its four-game road trip with a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders.
The 32-year-old tallied a natural hat-trick for the eighth three-goal game of his career and added one more for good measure to give him six tallies on the season, following up on his two-goal performance from Saturday's win over the Los Angeles Kings.
"You want that confidence as a goal scorer, you want to see the puck going into the back of the net," Neal said following his historic performance. "I've been put into a great position here to play and overall I just like the way our team plays. We're playing fast, we're jumping on teams and you can tell."
"Nealer found his groove," added Head Coach Dave Tippett. "Good for him to get on the board. He's come in here as a real energized player and he's helped our group, not just scoring goals but giving us some juice in the locker room. I'm happy to see him doing well."
Zack Kassian scored Edmonton's other goal in the victory and Mikko Koskinen made 25 saves as the Oilers improved to 3-0-0 to start a season for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign.
"Things are changing around here and this team wants to win," Neal added. "We've got guys in here right from the top to the bottom that want to make a difference, want to be a playoff team and want to contend to win a Stanley Cup.
"Right from day one it was pretty easy to fit in and it felt comfortable here. It's off to a good start. Winning is fun and we wanted to get that belief that we could do that around here. Obviously it's early, but it's a good start for us."
What an opening road period for the Orange and Blue it was, as they more than doubled up the Islanders in shots 13-6 and took a 2-1 lead into the intermission thanks to a pair of goals from their smoking-hot off-season addition.
Another new forward, Riley Sheahan, making his Oilers debut after missing the first two games of the season with a concussion, got the nod for the starting lineup and his trio alongside Jujhar Khaira and Patrick Russell set the tone early with a relentless forecheck and several scoring chances.
The rest of the squad followed their lead and dominated possession in the early stages of the game, eventually getting rewarded with a power play when Brock Nelson interfered with Connor McDavid.
It was the sputtering home side that capitalized, however, as Leo Komarov secured the puck at Edmonton's blueline and sprung Anthony Beauvillier in alone on Koskinen for the backhand deke top-shelf finish and a 1-0 lead.
The Oilers didn't let the shorthanded marker derail them, though, as Neal demolished an equalizing slap-shot far blocker side on Semyon Varlamov with 2:07 remaining in the opening frame on a pass from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Then, after Nelson took a double-minor for high-sticking on Oscar Klefbom that forced the d-man to exit the game for some repairs, Neal struck again with his third power-play tally and fourth goal overall this season, tucking home a feed from Darnell Nurse.
A strong first period translated into an even better middle frame for the Oilers as Neal completed the natural hat-trick 6:31 into the second, on the power play of course. Leon Draisaitl fired a perfect pass onto Neal's stick at the top of the crease for the deft deflection, with Klefbom picking up the second assist, only slightly worse for wear after getting bloodied earlier in the game.
The Deutschland Dangler was dealing again just over two minutes later as Draisaitl took a feed from McDavid and found Kassian streaking to the net, with the right-winger converting his third goal in as many games to start the season, making it 4-1 for the visitors.
"It's definitely nice when you score goals," Kassian smirked. "I don't think anyone will ever argue with that. But as a team we're playing well, we're playing fast, we're playing smart hockey. When you're playing with (Connor and Leon) you're going to get your chances offensively."
"He's going to the net and the puck's finding him there, which is good," Tippett said of the winger. "He's played well. We've got him dialled in and he's doing some things on that line other than scoring that are really helping the line... Obviously the two players he's playing with are nice to play with, but Zack's doing his part up there and it's good to see."
The Islanders found some life in the latter stages of the middle frame, not long after they swapped Varlamov for Thomas Greiss between the pipes. Their adversary on the other end was equal to the task, though, as Koskinen turned aside 16 of 17 through 40 minutes.
Neal didn't stop after three goals, picking up his fourth of the night with 13:09 remaining in regulation as he took a feed from Tomas Jurco and sniped a seeing-eye wrist shot through Greiss' pads.
Matt Martin and made it a 5-2 game late in the third period and New York also had a goal disallowed due to a kicking motion, but the damage was done as Edmonton emerged with the win and will look to make it four in a row against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.