Let's Hear it for James Neal

VANCOUVER, CANADA - OCTOBER 6: James Neal #18 of the Pittsburgh Penguins is checked by Kevin Bieksa #3 of the Vancouver Canucks during Canucks regular season home opener at Rogers ArenaOctober 6, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

Full disclosure: Yes, it's only one game. Yes, it's only one goal. But there's more to it than just that.

The James Neal who played against Vancouver Thursday night is the exact guy the Penguins traded for last season. There was an air of confidence unseen in a No. 18 Pittsburgh jersey last season. There was a set of skills that he failed to tap into last season, minus the single goal in the regular season. He had the cliche "net presence" last night. He and Malkin looked like a good one-two punch, as did the Neal-Kunitz duo. This can bode well for the Penguins this season if he keeps it up, and if one game is any indication of the new-found Neal then the Pens are going to be deadly.

But...

It is just one game. While he did have a nifty goal on Luongo it wasn't what you'd call a snipe - unless he can openly admit he was aiming for Luongo's skate because he knew the jittery netminder would kick it into his own net.

Still, the footwork, stickwork and overall work ethic was apparant in last night's win and if anything it's a positive step forward for a guy who struggled (and that's a nice way of putting it) last season when he came on board with Pittsburgh.

I guess there's some things that can be explained by numbers, others that can be explained by a gut feeling. Hooks had a gut feeling that Neal would score the first goal and he was right. Numbers suggested Neal was a great pick up at the trade deadline but actions spoke louder than stats. This year, even with little stats to back it up, the gut feeling is dominant once more and there is even one red light to back it up.

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