Penguins shut down Neal, Preds

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James Neal and the Nashville Predators came into Saturday’s home game hot, but the Pittsburgh Penguins doused that fire with a smothering 3-0 win.

With so much focus on Neal and Patric Hornqvist (sorry, Nick Spaling), Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury ended up stealing the headlines … although Hornqvist did get an assist.

The sweetest goal probably came when Crosby set up Malkin for a beautiful power-play goal, one of two man-advantage markers as Pittsburgh put the game away in the third period:

As well as Neal is fitting in with Nashville, seeing a play like that by his former Pittsburgh centers has to burn a bit. Fleury earned his first shutout of 2014-15 and 29th of his career, though he enjoyed a few bounces against his former teammate:

With this win, the Penguins end a two-game losing streak and improve to 4-2-1. Meanwhile, Nashville’s days of being undefeated in regulation are over, as they fall to 5-1-2.

The Predators get a little time to gather themselves for what is likely to be a big test to their legitimacy. Starting on Wednesday, they play six straight road games and seven of eight away from Bridgestone Arena.

If Nashville is still among the West’s best in mid-November, then the Predators’ critics will be quieter. The Penguins gave them some ammo tonight, though.

Want more info? Here’s an infographic from the Penguins:

Will winning trump revenge tonight?

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Two controversial moments from the 2014 postseason will be revisited on Saturday, but it remains to be seen if anyone will be “targeted” for revenge. Even this early into 2014-15, going for the victory might just be too important to risk it.

For one thing, New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider doesn’t expect any “carryover” from the crease-crashing moment that sidelined Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price last postseason, as New York Newsday’s Steve Zipay reports.

Here’s the video replay of a moment that Habs head coach Michel Therrien labeled “reckless.”

Montreal backs up Kreider’s feelings about letting the collision go, at least to an extent, as this post discusses.

Tonight also represents an opportunity for St. Louis Blues captain David Backes to get back at Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook for a charging hit that prompted a three-game postseason suspension:

Backes seemed to state that the Blues won’t go out of their way to get revenge on Seabrook … but they won’t pass up opportunities to leave the Blackhawks bruised, as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports.

While James Neal and Patric Hornqvist facing their former teams in tonight’s Pittsburgh Penguins – Nashville Predators game doesn’t bring to mind the same potential for carnage, revenge could very well be in the air in that case, too.

An old adage is that “living well is the best revenge.” If you believe the players involved, they’ll try to gain vengeance on the scoreboard.

Neal ready to get first game vs. Penguins since trade ‘over with’

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It’s going to be weird, so they might as well get this over with.

That’s the feeling Nashville Predators forward James Neal expressed when discussing his first game against the Pittsburgh Penguins since that blockbuster trade involving Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.

Much has been made of Neal (not to mention former partner-in-crime Evgeni Malkin) not seeing that swap coming, yet both Neal and Hornqvist are fitting in seamlessly in new locales.

Neal, 27, took a bit to get things together, but he’s red-hot for the Predators. His hat trick powered a 3-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday and all five of his 2014-15 tallies have come in the last four games. The narrative seems to be changing from Neal supposedly being difficult in the Pittsburgh locker room to his slapstick-sweet friendship with Rich Clune.

Hornqvist, also 27, hasn’t scored a point in his last two games, yet he still has eight points and an absolutely ridiculous 34 shots on goal in six games so far.

Time will tell how this trade looks over the long haul – spend a little time on Twitter and you’ll probably already hear some hasty proclamations – but so far, both players are benefiting their new squads.

They might just take advantage of their familiarity tonight, too. Hornqvist played all six of his previous seasons with Nashville after being “Mr. Irrelevant” (230th overall) in the 2005 NHL Draft. While Hornqvist knows the lay of the land at his old home – could we see him go to the wrong penalty box like David Legwand did in Nashville? – it sounds like Neal might take advantage of his experience shooting on Marc-Andre Fleury tonight:

Many eyes will be on those prominently traded forwards, yet we could learn a lot about their new and old teams tonight, too.

Video: Predators ride Neal’s hat trick to win vs. Blackhawks

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It took a few games for James Neal to get the lay of the land with Nashville, but now he’s really starting to pay dividends for the Predators. The hard-shooting power forward scored his first hat trick with his new team during Thursday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Let’s just say hat tricks aren’t a common sight for Predators fans:

Here’s video of his hat trick:

After generating a 21-15 shot advantage against Chicago through the first 40 minutes, Nashville held on for dear life in the closing minutes. Pekka Rinne managed to hold off a Blackhawks attack (17 shots to the Preds’ six), as Andrew Shaw was the only Blackhawk to beat him in the third period.

Nashville improves to 5-0-2 (including taking three out of a possible four points in two home games against Chicago) while the Blackhawks suffered their first regulation loss, falling to 4-1-1.

It remains to be seen if the Predators are for real, but if any statement comes from this outcome, it’s that Neal and Rinne can take over a game … even against the NHL’s elite.

Penguins move Malkin back to center

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There’s some solid logic to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ experiment with Evgeni Malkin on the wing.

While he’s enjoying cushy offensive zone starts as usual, having a center like Brandon Sutter doing the “dirty work” theoretically opens things up even more for Malkin. The 28-year-old also isn’t the most dominant guy in the faceoff circle, only winning 48.8 percent of his draws last season.

Still, such thinking can end up being similar to the debate regarding playing Alex Ovechkin at RW instead of his familiar LW spot: sometimes it’s best just to leave a star player where he’s comfortable.

NHL.com’s Wes Crosby reports that Malkin is expected to center a line with Pascal Dupuis and Blake Comeau as Pittsburgh ends a back-to-back set against the Detroit Red Wings tonight. This likely bumps Sutter down to his typical third-line center spot.

Malkin at RW certainly wasn’t a disaster, mind you; he managed eight points in five games (although only three of those came at even-strength). Going back to center might mean that the puck will be on his stick more often, however, which is rarely a bad thing.

The biggest hurdle may be linemate-related, though, really. While Patric Hornqvist has been brilliant alongside Sidney Crosby, it’s easy to see why “Geno” misses his buddy James Neal.