"The Real Deal Neal." That's what they're calling standout Penguins forward, James Neal, in the 'Burg. Last year the Pens acquired Neal from the Dallas Stars, and he proved to be a tremendous asset in shootout play upon arriving in the Steel City. However, fans are even more impressed with his play this season; his name has appeared on almost every single scoresheet! He's lit the lamp 7 times already and has tacked on 1 assist for good measure. He leads the Penguins in goals, points (8), power play goals (2), and shots (34). Neal is also tied with Toronto Maple Leaf's winger, Phil Kessel, for most goals in the NHL. Beyond all the statistics, he is just a captivating player to watch. He is feisty, tough, fast, and precise. He proves that number of shots equates to number of goals. It has been said that Neal is usually a slow starter and then gets hot later on in the season. But with the start he's had, it seems like he's defying that critique and may possibly be up for the "Rocket" Richard Trophy when this year is all said and done.

With stars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin*, still out because of injuries, some find it hard to believe that the Penguins are riding atop of the Atlantic Division at 5-2-2 and tied with Washington for number one in the Eastern Conference (12 pts each). However, I don't think this is a surprise at all. The Pens have so much depth at every position and players that can step up and perform. In addition to Neal's contribution, Kris Letang (7 pts), Matt Cooke (6 pts), Pascal Dupuis (6 pts), and Jordan Staal (6 pts) have stepped up as returners to be leaders for this team. Also, new acquisition, Richard Park, has been a key contributor with 3 points. As for the netminders, Brent Johnson has played extremely well, filling in for Marc-Andre Fleury when he was sick and needed additional rest. Johnson went head-to-head with some of the NHL's best when he stuck with the Washington Capitals until Dennis Wideman's overtime goal on a power play because of Staal's tripping penalty.

Some people predict Sidney Crosby's return for November 11th when the Pens return home after a road trip. Given their consistent effort as described above, there is no reason why the team cannot continue to win through that point, and they will need to continue to do so even after Crosby's return. The fans must be patient with Crosby. They cannot expect him to step on the ice and pick up right where he left off last season. It just isn't realistic. But hey, with "The Real Deal Neal" in town, Crosby may have all the time he needs to reacclimate.

*Note: Malkin has played in 3 games this season. He is still suffering from soreness in his knee.

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