James Neal could prove to be the scoring touch that the Penguins need.
Looking at the Penguin's current injury roster, a lot of people may be thinking that they are down and out.
Although the Pens are definitely a different team without its core of stars, it's no reason to write them off so easily. The acquisition of veteran forward Alexei Kovalev and power forward James Neal could catapult the Penguins' offense into something to behold again.
Obviously, the Penguins are missing the amazing feats of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but we need to realize that, no matter how important they are, the Penguins still need to move forward and not hide in a corner.
The fact that Ray Shero chose not to acquire another forward before the trade deadline was surprising to me, but it may be a sign that he expects Sidney Crosby to return this season. Then again, he truly may feel comfortable with the three pick-ups he made. I don't know if I feel as comfortable as he does, but I haven't exactly studied these pick-ups as long or as in-depth as he has.
For the fans, Alexei Kovalev is probably the most exciting transaction of this trade due to the fact that he played his best years in Pittsburgh, including a 95 point season, but his game has been slowing down due to his age (38). Can he prove to be the next Billy Guerin for the Penguins? In scoring, definitely.
As for the leadership role, he has had mixed reviews throughout his career. Gilles Meloche's son (Eric) played along side Kovalev and often states how well he takes care of the younger players. Although this doesn't solidify the fact that he will turn into a great voice in the locker room, it definitely makes fans feel better about any concerns that they may have had about his leadership skills.
My favorite pick-up, however, is James Neal, who is a power forward whose main focus has always been scoring—just what the Penguins need. He currently has 21 goals and 39 points in 62 games—a formidable number. Whenever Sidney Crosby returns, be it this season or next, James Neal could prove to be just the winger that the Penguins have been waiting for. According to Ray Shero, he is.
The third pick-up is Matt Niskanen, a once offensive defenseman who's performance has been less than stellar the past couple seasons. Niskanen could prove to be worth the loss of Goligoski once he gets back on his game.
His best season was his sophomore year, scoring six goals and adding 29 assists for 35 points. Ray Shero has blamed his slump on the fact that he just may need a new setting and a change of pace. Let's hope that he can relive the former glory of his sophomore year.
Other than the trade deadline pick-ups, the Penguins still have a strong core in tact. Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek has been playing their game, and that game has helped keep the Penguins at the top spot in penalty killing for a large majority of the season.
Craig Adams, Max Talbot, Matt Cooke and Mike Rupp have all picked up their game and contributed heavily to the penalty kill as well.
Kris Letang has been playing the best hockey of his career this season. He has eight goals and 38 assists for 46 points so far, which are great numbers and are good enough to have him in 3rd place among defensive point leaders.
He is a top contender for the Norris Trophy and was a write in on the All-Star ballot and still won the most votes among defenseman and the second most votes out of the entire league—second only to Sidney Crosby.
Some of these accolades should not be surprising, looking at his play this season. Kris Letang's continued success is pivotal to the Penguins playoff hopes.
In short, as players begin to return from injury (Letestu, Kunitz, Jeffery), the Penguins will start to fall back into their old ways. Although their leader has been sidelined, Crosby still can give the team the support they need off the ice, and through his motivation, along with the motivation to make a statement that they can win, even with the unfortunate events of late, will springboard the Penguins into a success that hopefully can help them make an honorable run at the ultimate prize.
Lord Stanley's Cup.