Hat-trick hero James Neal, Penguins turn on the flair, soar past Jets 8-4

Mar 20, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) skates in against Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec (31) during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

The Penguins are good at hockey, and to prove it they scored eight goals against the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday night. Winnipeg scored four, good enough for most nights, especially on the road. But not on March 20 and not in Pittsburgh.

Evgeni Malkin had FIVE points.

James Neal had FOUR points, but more impressively, THREE goals for the hat trick.

Sidney Crosby had FOUR assists. Goalless through through four games, he still has managed to register NINE assists. He's up to 21 points in 12 games this season.

Pascal Dupuis scored again. He's up to 21 goals. That's a career-high for the soon-to-be 33-year-old winger.

Only seven Penguins didn't register points tonight, 11 did (believe it or not, Kris Letang didn't score a point).

Just FOUR Jets finished the game with an even or better plus-minus rating.

All of those numbers don't equal an 11-game winning streak, but math like that seems like it should do something good. Like overcome some shaky defending and suspect goaltending.

But eight goals? Defense-schmefense. Points are prettier.

It's hard hating on the Jets, as they really do play a clean, enjoyable brand of hockey. It's just that, with mediocre goaltending and against a team like the Penguins, it's not too much of a surprise when the score gets absurd. Again.

The Pens are up to 96 points now, just a single, lone, solitary overtime loss behind the New York Rangers. Should the Rangers stumble against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday the Penguins could have an opportunity to overtake them on Thursday.

Yes, with 10 games remaining, it's really time to watch the scoreboard. Things most definitely just got really, really real.

The Nashville Predators visit the Penguins on Thursday. And while recently reacquired forward Alexander Radulov will likely attract much of the attention and make his return to North American ice for the southerners, the biggest test for the Penguins will be handling a defense like the Predators' and a goaltender like Pekka Rinne.

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