THREE STRAIGHT

Oil­ers go 3-0 with four goals from James Neal against Is­lan­ders

Edmonton Sun - - NEWS - ROBERT Ty­chkowski

UNIONDALE — Thanks, Cal­gary.

Fans in Ed­mon­ton aren’t ex­actly sure why the Flames were will­ing to swap a peren­nial 25-goal scorer for Mi­lan Lu­cic, and at this point it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter. They’re just glad they did.

Like, RE­ALLY glad.

It’s taken James Neal all of three games to make good on the vow he made when he came to Ed­mon­ton last sum­mer in that cu­ri­ous deal with the Flames — that he would shake off last season’s seven-goal aber­ra­tion and re-es­tab­lish him­self as one of the NHL’S most con­sis­tent scor­ers.

With four goals in Tues­day’s 5-2 win over the New York Is­lan­ders, on the heels of two goals in Sat­ur­day’s 6-5 win over Los An­ge­les, the re­born winger is prov­ing to be an in­gre­di­ent the 3-0 Oil­ers have been miss­ing for years.

“Nealer found his groove there,” said head coach Dave Tip­pett. “He had 11 or 12 at­tempts at net. I’ll give him credit, he’s come in here and been a re­ally en­er­gized player. He’s helped our group, not just scor­ing some goals, but he’s re­ally helped our group with giv­ing us some juice in the locker room. I’m happy to see him do­ing well.”

So is ev­ery­one north of Red Deer.

“He had an off year last year, but it’s crazy how the hockey world seems to for­get he scored 20-plus goals for 10 years,” said team­mate Zack Kas­sian. “That doesn’t hap­pen by fluke. He’s great in the room, a great team­mate, we’re re­ally happy to have him.” Neal needed just 8:38 to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead Tues­day, scor­ing at 17:53 and 19:29 of the first pe­riod and then again at 6:31 of the sec­ond. He added an­other one for good mea­sure in the third, seal­ing the Is­lan­ders’ fate and turn­ing the knife in Cal­gary’s side.

Most peo­ple ex­pect he would re­bound, but few ex­pected it would be this dra­matic, this fast.

“Well,” said Neal, who be­came the first Oiler in fran­chise history to score six goals in the first three games of a season. “I’ve scored goals my whole ca­reer. I put pres­sure on my­self to score goals. I want that pres­sure, and last year was a tough year. I wanted a chance to prove my­self. I came here, and had peo­ple who be­lieved I could bounce back, put a good season to­gether, and help a team get to the play­offs.”

Play­offs are a long way away, but 3-0 is the start they were all look­ing for.

“It feels good, for sure,” said Neal. “With all the change here — man­age­ment, Ken Hol­land com­ing in, then Tipp com­ing in — I think things are chang­ing around here. We have guys in here, right from the bot­tom to the top, who want to con­tend to win a Stan­ley Cup. Right from Day 1 it was easy to fit in. It felt com­fort­able here.”

THIS and That

Kas­sian also scored a sec­ond-pe­riod goal, giv­ing him one in all three Oil­ers games. “It’s def­i­nitely nice when you score goals,” he said. “I don’t think any­one will ar­gue with that, but I think as a team we’re just play­ing well. We’re play­ing fast. We’re play­ing smart hockey. When you play with those two (Mc­david and Drai­saitl) you’re go­ing to get your chances of­fen­sively. We talked about tight­en­ing it up a lit­tle bit de­fen­sively and we did that tonight.” … Con­nor Mc­david had three as­sists for seven points in two games while Leon Drai­saitl had a cou­ple of helpers to give him seven points on the season… A shop­per in the Save On Foods con­test won $100,000 on Neal’s four goals. A fifth would have been worth $1 mil­lion.

JUST a FLESH wound

Os­car Klef­bom left the game late in the first pe­riod af­ter be­ing high-sticked in the face by New York’s Brock Nel­son. He got up off the ice and went straight to the dress­ing room for re­pairs. The teams had to wait about a minute for the en­su­ing face off while the ice crew scraped the blood off the ice. He was back for the start of the sec­ond pe­riod, as­sist­ing on Neal’s hat-trick goal.

STRONG START

Lost in the ex­cite­ment of Ed­mon­ton’s win and Neal’s hero­ics was the first start for em­bat­tled goal­tender Mikko Kosk­i­nen, who made 24 stops in post­ing his first win of the season. The for­mer Is­lan­der needed a strong de­but and he de­liv­ered.

“He was ready to go tonight, this is where it all started for him,” said Kas­sian. “So he was pretty pumped to come in here. He def­i­nitely held it down when we needed it most.”

Kosk­i­nen says hav­ing to wait un­til the third game to make his first start is no big deal.

“It didn’t do any harm. Last year I waited prob­a­bly 10 games to get started. Only one guy can be there at a time. I’m def­i­nitely fine with that.”

A two-man ro­ta­tion isn’t ideal, all goalies want to carry a ma­jor­ity of the work­load, but they say there are bright spots to al­ter­nat­ing starts.

“We should be fresh when we start,” said Kosk­i­nen. “Men­tally, some­times you need a rest. Now there are no ex­cuses.”

Tip­pett won’t say how long he will be con­tent with a twoman ro­ta­tion.

“It’s only Game 3,” he said. “A lot can hap­pen be­tween now and (the end of the season).”

DENNIS SCHNEIDLER/USA TODAY SPORTS

Bruce Ben­nett/getty Images

James Neal scor­ing one of his four goals against the Is­lan­ders last night at Nas­sau Coli­seum. Neal has al­ready eclipsed half his goal to­tal from last season with the Flames.

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