Nashville Predators winger James Neal is having an excellent start to the 2015-16 season. Neal’s seven points (five goals, two assists) in six games leads the team in scoring and is currently on pace for 95 points, which would be a large increase from last season’s disappointing numbers of 37 points (23 g, 14 a) in 67 games.
Tuesday’s 5-4 shootout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning was Neal’s third-straight game with a goal and second-straight multi-goal game.
“He’s moving his legs well,” said Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette after the game Tuesday night. “He’s physical. I think when you’re skating and you put yourself in the battle, a lot of good things can happen. He’s been really good for a few games now.”
A reason for Neal’s sudden success is who he is playing with now. To begin the season, he was on the right side of center Mike Ribeiro and left-winger Filip Forsberg, as he was for a majority of last year. After three scoreless games for Neal, Laviolette felt the need to tinker with the lines so his elite scorer could get back on track. Laviolette swapped Ribeiro for Mike Fisher prior to last Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders, and since then, Neal has been unstoppable offensively.
Breakout Year in Nashville?
James Neal on scoring buzz he’s currently experiencing: “I don’t know how you can keep that around all year, but I’ll definitely try to.”
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) October 21, 2015
Fisher’s physicality and grit is just what Neal needs to get back to his game that was left in Pittsburgh two seasons ago. Neal is a dangerous presence every time he hits the ice.
One of Neal’s flaws last season was being streaky offensively. In nine games from Feb. 21 through Mar. 7, a critical part of their season, Neal did not record a single point. If he can avoid a similar fate this season, the Predators will be in good shape offensively.
Neal’s offense is one of the reasons Nashville is 5-1-0 to start the year. How good the Preds truly are will be tested in the next three games when they host the Anaheim Ducks Thursday, Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, and travel to play the San Jose Sharks Wednesday.