James Neal is one of the most gifted goal scorers in the NHL. He is one of the best power play forwards as well, and at season’s end he will be one of the reasons that the Pittsburgh Penguins win or lose the Stanley Cup. He has great vision on the ice and his release is as quick as a mouse trap.
James Neal is also a pest, and his antics are getting old.
As a Penguins writer and fan, there is nothing more frustrating than watching how often Neal illegally attacks opposing players. I’m all for toughness and miss having guys like Gary Roberts in the lineup, but what Neal does is far from tough and much closer to cowardly.
Thursday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings once again displayed Neal’s reckless abandonment for the safety of those playing across from him.
Instead of going for a legal check, a frustrated Neal went head hunting and threw a vicious cross check at the head of Red Wings forward Luke Glendening. Before the hit, Neal gave Glandening a solid slash, which foreshadowed what was about to come next.
Glendening wasn’t hurt on the play, and Neal received a two-minute penalty for cross-checking and was later assessed a $5,000 fine by the league. He’s lucky he wasn’t suspended.
With diving becoming an issue more and more in the NHL, had Glendening decided to go down on the play, Neal’s fate would have been much worse. The fact is Glendening is not a regular NHL’er and was only in the lineup due to the ridiculous amount of injuries the Red Wings are currently dealing with. He knows that an embellishment penalty would most likely get him sent right back down to Grand Rapids, and he may never get another chance at playing at the highest level. Seasoned veterans can get away with diving because the only consequence they suffer if caught, which is rare, is a two-minute minor and maybe a little harassing from their teammates.
Speaking of diving, did I mention that Neal has been called for embellishment three times this season?
His antics on the ice are beginning to outweigh his offensive prowess, and it’s only getting worse. The issue needs to be addressed, and Sidney Crosby needs to find a way to get it into Neal’s head that this type of play is unacceptable. It doesn’t just make Neal looks bad; it makes the entire Penguins organization look bad.
A team that is already hated by most of the country, Neal is only making matters worse, and it’s becoming impossible to defend him.