While his efforts may sometimes get overshadowed playing alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, James Neal could be close to reaching superstar status, too.
Neal looks to continue his impressive play as the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins try to avenge a rare loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.
After suffering a pair of 3-1 defeats in a home-and-home set against New Jersey, Pittsburgh (9-5-0) got back on track Wednesday with a 4-2 win over Ottawa. Crosby had a goal and two assists for his fourth three-point effort in seven games, while Neal scored twice - including the go-ahead goal early in the third period - and added an assist.
"For me it's just to try to find open ice, get in spots where I can shoot the puck," Neal told the team's official website. "When you're playing with guys like (Malkin), (Crosby) and (Chris Kunitz) ... with guys keying on them a little bit more I'm just trying to find open ice. They give me some great passes and if it wasn't for them it wouldn't be that easy."
Neal finished fourth in the NHL last season with a career-high 40 goals and leads the team with 10, half of which have come in his last five games.
"If you're going to make a book on a shooter and a guy getting open, just watch this guy play the game," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He moves to get open."
Neal had five goals and two assists over a three-game stretch in this series before going pointless in a 4-2 loss at Winnipeg on Jan. 25. Pittsburgh has outscored the Jets 73-43 in going 15-3-0 in the past 18 meetings.
Crosby, who scored twice in last month's matchup, has eight goals and eight assists during a five-game point streak in this series. He's recorded 32 points in his last 15 meetings versus Winnipeg (5-6-1).
The Jets enter the weekend trying to rebound from a stretch of five losses in seven games after falling 3-2 to Philadelphia on Tuesday. Blake Wheeler set up Andrew Ladd's team-leading fifth and six goals, but Winnipeg went scoreless in three power-play opportunities and is 0 for 8 over its last three games.
"You have to find ways to do the right things. We weren't able to do that consistently," coach Claude Noel told the league's official website. "You can look at it and say that it's urgency, but I'm not so sure it's that. I would have liked to have seen us have more 'A' games, and that's more the area for me (to) make assessments there."
Ondrej Pavelec stopped 10 of 11 shots Tuesday after replacing Al Montoya, who left after the second period due to a lower-body injury.
"Same old 40 minutes that we played well and we did things that we liked and then some inconsistencies in the other parts of our game that cost us," said Pavelec, whose 3.28 goals-against average ranks as one of the league's highest.
Pavelec, who made 33 saves against the Penguins last month, is 2-10-0 in this series with a 4.56 GAA - his highest mark against any opponent he's faced more than once.
Marc-Andre Fleury could face the Jets after giving way to backup Tomas Vokoun on Jan. 25. Fleury is 4-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA this month and 12-2-0 with a 2.06 GAA over his last 14 starts against Winnipeg.
The Jets made two trades Wednesday, acquiring Eric Tangradi from Pittsburgh for a seventh-round draft pick and sending Alexei Ponikarovsky to New Jersey for two picks.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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