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Neal, Malkin Continue Hot Start in 6-3 Win Over Rangers

Neal added two goals Sunday to complete the weekend hat trick and help give the Pens an early jump on the Atlantic.

Bruce Bennett

The lockout-shortened NHL may only be two days old, but the Pittsburgh Penguins have still taken four out of a possible four points, their best divisional competition is still a combined 0-4-0 and Sidney Crosby is still healthy and in the lineup.

Decent start.

Pittsburgh now has a jump on the East and especially in the Atlantic, where the Rangers and Flyers, one half of the divisional meatgrinder also populated by the Penguins and New Jersey Devils, are in an early two-way tie for last place.

As they did in Philadelphia Saturday, James Neal and Evgeni Malkin set the tone offensively. Neal added two markers Sunday, once on the power play, to give him three on the young season. Two of his three goals have come on the man-advantage, a year after leading the NHL in power-play goals with 18.

Malkin added three more assists to bring his point total to 4 and forced two takeaways to continue his early defensive excellence.

Three Stars

1. James Neal
Two more goals, including the power play marker. Rocket Richard race a real possibility.

2. Evgeni Malkin
Three more assists and stellar backchecking. Midseason form, but it is his midseason.

3. Kris Letang
Goal, assist, defensive menace. If he stays healthy this year...

Pittsburgh went 4-2 against the Rangers last season, scoring at least four goals in three of the four wins. Pittsburgh now has 9 goals in two games (albeit with two empty-netters) and the Rangers, defensive stalwarts they've become, surrendered nine in the opening weekend.

In total, the Penguins got goals from Neal (2), Kennedy, Niskanen, Letang and Dupuis.

Sunday also marked Tomas Vokoun's first start as a Penguin. Vokoun was strong in net, collecting 31 saves on 34 shots. The Rangers started well with 13 first period SOG and turned up the heat late in the third, but like Marc-Andre Fleury the day before, Vokoun shut the door when the opposition made a push.

Shero's early-summer acquisition of the veteran netminder is already paying dividends.

Speaking of paying dividends, Dan Bylsma's new defensive pairings have been strong. The defense was suspect coming into the season and will remain as such until they can gut out one or two playoff series victories, but the new pairings seem to be matching strengths with strengths.

Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik both play positional, structured games. Letang and Matt Niskanen are naturally fleet of foot and play all-around games. The new pairings seem to have struck up some of the chemistry that was lacking last season. Thus far, the top four have been much improved.

Other areas of note:

The power play, in its new-look iteration, is striking. The Pens are 4-for-8 on the man-advantage through two games and Neal's new position on the point is taking full advantage of the overload system Bylsma has implemented (Jesse Marshall at Faceoff-Factor explains the whole thing here and its very much worth your read).

Tyler Kennedy seems to have found a new home on the redesigned third line. His crash-bang style has always provided energy but not necessarily offense. Kennedy added his second of the year by getting to the net and burying Joe Vitale's rebound. Good start for an annual fan whipping boy.

Paul Martin seems to be playing like he's got something to prove. Three assists, an even rating and nearly 24:00 minutes of ice time through the first two games is a good start for the $25 million man. Off the score sheet, Martin seems to be playing with renewed confidence. Good things so far from the Orpik-Martin tandem.

Sidney Crosby has been pretty quiet so far. It's almost as though he hasn't played a full season in three years.

Toronto visits Wednesday in the home opener. If the Black and Gold game was a primer, CONSOL should be bursting at the seams.