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.