(SportsNetwork.com) – James Neal is heating up just before a matchup with his
Neal and the Nashville Predators try to keep their season-opening point streak
intact on Saturday night as they play host to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The 27-year-old Neal was acquired by the Predators from the Penguins in a
draft day trade that sent forwards Patrick Hornqvist and Nick Spaling to
In Neal, Nashville landed a proven scorer to fit into new head coach Peter
Laviolette’s system. The winger had 40 goals and 81 points over 80 games in
his first full season with Pittsburgh in 2011-12 after being acquired from
Dallas during the previous campaign, notched 21 goals in 40 games in 2012-13
and managed 27 goals and 61 points in just 59 contests last season.
“Playing against your old team, playing against the guys you played with for
so many years, it’s going to be different,” Neal told Nashville’s website.
“It’s going to be weird at the start, but after the first few shifts, it’s
another hockey game. We’re out to do a job and just keep what we’ve built
going in here.”
Neal has potted five goals in his last four games with Nashville, including a
hat trick in Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. He scored in all
three periods, with Filip Forsberg picking up two assists.
Pekka Rinne made 30 saves for the Predators, who are 5-0-2 on the season to
post their longest stretch to begin a season without a regulation loss since
going 5-0-3 in 2010-11.
“The biggest thing for us is we don’t feel like we’ve played our best games
yet,” said Neal. “We’re going to continue to get better and continue to work,
and I think you’ve just seen the first little bit of the Predators.”
Nashville will try to finish up a perfect three-game homestand tonight and
Rinne figures to start, but is just 1-2-1 lifetime versus the Penguins with a
3.55 goals against average and .867 save percentage.
Rinne will face former teammates in Hornqvist and Spaling, two Nashville draft
Hornqvist played his first 363 NHL games with Nashville, which selected him
with the final pick of the 2005 draft. He totaled 106 goals and 216 points
with the Predators and has notched four goals and eight points in six games
Spaling, a 2007 second-round pick, logged 40 goals and 84 points in 297 games
with the Preds. He has a goal and one assist in six games with Pittsburgh.
The Penguins have lost two straight and three of four since winning their
first two of the campaign. They did get a point last time out, but collapsed
late in a 4-3 overtime loss to Detroit.
The Red Wings scored twice in the final 2:39 of the third period with an extra
attacker, then netted the winner with 44 seconds on the clock in overtime.
Pascal Dupuis, Olli Maatta and Chris Kunitz all scored for the Penguins, while
Thomas Greiss stopped 27-of-31 shots in his season debut. Evgeni Malkin
extended his season-opening assist streak to six straight games.
“We have to learn from it,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “Hopefully,
we put ourselves in position with a two-goal lead more often and do a better
job to protect it.”
Marc-Andre Fleury should return to net tonight for Pittsburgh and is 5-2-1
with a 1.94 GAA and .923 save percentage lifetime versus Nashville.
The Pens have won four straight against the Predators, who have not won in
this series since Feb. 14, 2010 in Pittsburgh.