is on fire. Another game. Another two goals.
Neal met the team that traded him to Pittsburgh nine months ago and led the Penguins to a 3-1 victory over the Dallas Stars by scoring twice on Friday.
Neal is currently on a five-game point streak (3G-4A) and ranks second in the league with 11 goals.
“It’s always nice to get it against your former team,” Neal said. “The main thing is us playing a top team and beating them. They came in here to play us hard and we came back and played a great game ourselves.”
Added forward Matt Cooke
, "This is the first time he's gotten a chance to play against them. i think that his emotions were pretty ramped up. There are few things sweeter than playing against your former team."
The teams entered Friday’s game as the top teams in their respective conferences, so it was bound to be a tough battle all night.
With the win, the Penguins now have an NHL-best (tied with Chicago) 23 points.
“Especially with them doing so well and coming in here being a top team I was a test for them and a test for us,” Neal said. “It felt good to be able to come out on top.”
Neal’s first tally of the night came late in the second period on the power play, shortly after Chris Kunitz
’s re-direct attempt was ruled a no-goal for being a high stick.
Neal answered just 24 seconds later with a one-timer off a pass from Kunitz from above the near circle, which passed right by Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen and tied the game at 1-1.
During the third period, Neal scored his second goal of the night – again on the man-advantage. After a pass from Malkin, Neal took a shot from the circle that deflected off a Dallas player’s stick and into a wide-open net.
This goal also came shortly after the refs waved off another apparent goal by Kunitz due to goalie interference – and gave the Penguins an important 2-1 lead.
“He was ready to shoot the puck pretty much every time it came near him,” head coach Dan Bylsma said of Neal.
“I think every chance he got it was going to the cage.”
Neal’s teammates worked hard to get him a hat trick by the end of the game, but time expired before it could happen.
“’Geno’ (Evgeni Malkin
) tried and those are good teammates,” Neal said.
“That’s what this team is about. It’s fun to be with them.”
Neal has felt a lot more confident this season since joining the Penguins back in February, and he’s making the most of it on his time on the ice.
“It’s a combination of everything, playing with great players, and playing a team game combined with the system,” Neal said. “It’s everything and it shows every night we play.”
Bylsma has taken notice of Neal’s willingness to shoot the puck and his ability to come up big for the team.
“It’s a big game for James obviously against his old team,” Bylsma said. “Two power-play goals doing what we do and the response. He stepped up again.”