James Neal keeps scoring goals as Oilers remain unbeaten

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Not even the most optimistic Edmonton Oilers fan could have drawn up a start this good for the 2019-20 season.

With their 4-3 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night, the Oilers remained perfect on the young season and improved to 4-0 for just the fourth time in franchise history, and the first time since the 2008-09 season.

It was their big stars doing the damage on Thursday.

Connor McDavid sent the game to overtime with a late power play goal while Leon Draisaitl (who also scored in regulation) scored the lone goal in the shootout to help the Oilers extend their season-opening winning streak.

But the big story to come out of this game, again, is the continued resurgence of offseason acquisition James Neal as he scored in his third consecutive game and has already matched his goal output (seven) from the entire 2018-19 season. It has taken him just four games to do it.

His seven goals are also the most for any Oilers player through the first four games in franchise history.

After signing a huge contract with the Calgary Flames in free agency, Neal was a massive flop in his first year with the team scoring just seven goals in 63 games, quickly falling out of favor with the organization and the fanbase. Looking for a change — and some added toughness — the Flames dumped his contract on the Oilers in exchange for their biggest albatross contract (Milan Lucic). Given the construction of the two contracts it was a financial win for the Oilers, and it also had a great chance to be a win on the ice since Neal always seemed like the more likely player to have a bounce-back year.

So far, that gamble is paying off.

Neal has now scored in three consecutive games for the Oilers and is giving them exactly what they needed — a forward not named McDavid or Draisaitl that could put the puck in the back of the net on occasion.

Is he going to keep scoring at such a ridiculous pace all year? Of course not. But if he can at least get back to being a 25-30 goal player that is going to be a huge upgrade to the Oilers’ lineup. He has already been a major difference-maker in three of the team’s first four wins this season with two goals in a one-goal win against the Kings, four goals in a 5-2 win against the Islanders, and a goal in a shootout win on Thursday.

As for the Devils, Thursday’s defeat drops them to 0-2-2 on the season for what has to be a bitterly disappointing start after such a huge offseason.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.