James Neal vs. Phil Kessel - The Uber Early Rocket Richard Race

TORONTO, CANADA - OCTOBER 29: James Neal #18 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates during NHL game action against the Toronto Maple Leafs October 29, 2011 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Brad White/Getty Images)

It's far too early in the season to consider crowning a Rocket Richards winner, but who would've guess that James Neal and Phil Kessel would be the two guys duking it out atop the list of the league's leading goal scorers?

In the absence of Sidney Crosby, Neal has played phenomenally for the Pens. Hell, even if Crosby was in the lineup and he was playing like this, you'd have to give him a tip of the cap. Nine goals in 13 games (plus two assists) is great output from a guy like Neal, especially when compared to last season's one goal in the black and gold. This is the guy Ray Shero traded for at the deadline last season. This is the guy who played so well in Dallas before the trade. This is the guy who is keeping the Penguins in contention during the early part of the season.

As for Toronto's Phil Kessel, his 10 goals and eight assists has helped the Maple Leafs to 15 points, enough to lead the Northeast Division. Should this prove to not be just a hot start, and instead stick around for the better part of the season, then there's little reason to think Toronto will miss the playoffs. They've yet to go to the postseason since the NHL's lockout...in 2005.

The Penguins thankfully have a few days off between now and Thursday's game against the Sharks in San Jose. This should hopefully allow enough time for Jordan Staal to heal up whatever leg injury plagued him last week against the Islanders (and kept him out against Toronto). Speaking of the Islanders - Trevor Gillies was placed on waivers. I felt that was worth mentioning somewhere around these parts.

A short west coast swing starts Thursday against San Jose and wraps up Saturday against the Kings. Threads and the like will be posted as per the usual.

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