James Neal got called out.
Now it’s time for James Neal to shut some people up. That’s if he wants to.
Just hours after former NHL referee, current KHL disciplinary consultant and some think crackpot Paul Stewart called out Neal in a column he penned for HockeyBuzz.com, Neal is now faced with perhaps his most daunting task as this 2013-14 regular season winds down. Neal must carry the second line for these Pittsburgh Penguins; Neal needs to show people why he’s worth $5 million bucks this year and why some around the league consider him an impeccable goal scorer.
Neal needs to stop taking silly penalties like the one he took with less than a minute to go in a one-goal game against Phoenix on Tuesday night and start concentrating more on putting the puck in the net.
Or else, to be frank, columns like the one Paul Stewart wrote will continue to carry validity.
See, Neal’s linemate Evgeni Malkin is hurt. Out 2-3 weeks — or at least that’s what the Penguins are saying.
Who knows? It could be longer, it could drift into the playoffs. The reconfigured second line for the Penguins — at least for now — will consist of center Brandon Sutter and left winger Jussi Jokinen playing alongside Neal, who patrols that right side.
The Malkin injury was confirmed by Penguins coach Dan Bylsma on Tuesday morning before the team went out and lost to the Phoenix, 3-2, missing a chance to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But back to Stewart and Neal; back to that aforementioned column.
Stewart is a man who started officiating NHL games in 1986 and lasted 13 years wearing the stripes in the league. He tinkers with writing a column now, too.
In his latest column, he was none too kind to Neal.
Stewart writes, in part: “James Neal is not my type of hockey player. He has been involved in multiple incidents, showing reckless disregard for the safety of fellow players. Furthermore, he’s a player who has acquired the reputation for being a diver.”
But wait, there’s more. Much more. Stewart also opines:
“I think of Neal as a player who has already been suspended three times in his career for dirty hits. That includes a five-game suspension earlier this season for a kneeing incident. Additionally, between his years in Dallas and Pittsburgh, he has previously been involved in least other three potentially suspendable incidents with his stick where he was fined and/or warned by the League.”
Stewart, fairly, outlines the times that James Neal has lost his mind over the passage of his career and how the right winger has a penchant for finding himself on the wrong side of nasty and boneheaded incidents.
Again, all that is fair. More to the point, that’s the part that most Pittsburgh Penguins fans will focus in on — the fact that Stewart is calling out Neal for his behavior.
To me, however, the real hammer portion of what Stewart wrote is this:
“I have seen enough of Neal’s play over the years with the Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh to know that he is a very gifted offensive player with size, skill and an explosive shot. At age 26, he’s already been a 40-goal scorer in the NHL and he’ll probably do it a few more times in years to come if he stays healthy.”
That’s the part Neal needs to focus in on deeply. You see, everyone can see it, even a guy like Stewart who goes out of his way to be Neal’s harshest critic.
If Neal were to focus more on what he can do as an offensive weapon and hedge less toward always trying to even some silly personal score, he’d be better for it. And by extension, the Penguins would be better for it.
Right now, with Evgeni Malkin sidelined, what better time for James Neal to shut people like Paul Stewart up?
You know the best way to do that? Just go out, play hockey and score goals — and leave all the silly stuff to someone else.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.