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Uphill for Real Deal Neal.

For fans of the fastest game on ice, there are names, that when you hear them, you just know. Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid. And Vladimir Tarasenko, to name a few. While not on the Superstar level, James Neal is one of those names.

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Neal a 13-year veteran, did not have the suitors banging at his door this season like he might have hoped. With no guaranteed jobs being offered, Neal took a long shot chance on himself.

Neal Last played for the Edmonton Oilers but had his contract bought out. During free agency, no one came calling except for some PTO offers. He chose the St. Louis Blues.

“This team’s a really hard team to play against.” Neal Said. “This is a team that wants to win and is on the verge of winning again. For me, I just wanted an opportunity to come in and show the work I’ve put in this summer and I’ve got lots of game left.”

A lot of game left indeed. Neal netted his first pre-season hat trick in a 6-2 win over the Minnesota Wild at Enterprise Center on Saturday night. Five of the six goals came from the newcomers.

Brandon Saad, the free-agent acquisition from Colorado and a former Blackhawk, opened the scoring by being in front of the net. He was part of the top-line combination that included center Robert Thomas and Right-Wing Vladimir Tarasenko.

Tarasenko and Thomas entered the zone together and almost tripping over each other. Tarasenko fired a sharp wrister on net creating a juicy rebound that Thomas scooped up. Then with a nifty backhand pass fed the puck to Saad who buried it.

Jeremy Rutherford of the Athletic wrote, “Blues coach Craig Berube was asked earlier in camp why he put those three together, and he said it was because there was a shooter (Tarasenko), a passer (Thomas) and a player who liked to go to the net (Saad). That was exactly what happened on the Blues’ first goal Saturday, when Tarasenko took a shot, Thomas passed the puck to Saad, and the newcomer scored.”

“(Thomas) had the puck a lot,” Berube said. “I thought he made some real good plays with it. Vladi and Saad had some real good opportunities.”

The Blue would finish the first period up one to nothing despite being outshot 10-5.

Then “Neal and the Gang” took over, somewhat.

The second started out with a bang. Just 2;22 seconds into the second, the Blues made it 2-0 on Neal’s first of the night.

Minnesota would answer back when Adam Beckman the Wild’s 2019 third-round draft pick fired a puck that seemed to stun the Blues netminder Charlie Lindgren as the puck bounced off of him and trickled between his legs and into the net.

Lindgren, who relived starter Ville Husso to start the second, faced 21 shots stopping 19. The second ended with the Blue trailing in shots 11-21 but leading on the scoreboard 2-1. Husso stopped all 10 shots he faced.

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Blues Head Coach Craig Berube addressed the lack of shots in the first two periods.

“It was OK. Obviously the third period was our best period.” Berube stated. “We started to attack more, shoot more pucks on net. In the first two periods I didn’t think that we had that kind of mentality. . . .But overall, I was pretty happy with the game.”

Minnesota and Beckman erased the 2-0 deficit just 4 minutes and 27 seconds after the puck dropped. Beckman and William Bitten combined for their second goal on a three on none.

Minnesota may have erased a two-goal lead, but the Blues were quick to answer. Ivan Barbashev and Neal scored 18 seconds apart just 35 seconds after Minnesota knotted it up. The Blues found their shots in the third taking 19.

Barbeshev goal.

Neal’s Second

Neal was one of the centerpieces for the expansion Las Vegas Knights and helped lead them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2017 along with Blues teammate David Perron. Neal knows he has a long way to go but just wanted a good showing after suffering through COVID last season.

“I had COVID at the start of the year.” Neal Said “So nothing was right. It took me a long time to get over it and just kind of fell behind. Then getting bought out (by Edmonton) and trying to figure out a new path.”

“I just kind of focused on myself and getting myself on getting in the shape that I need to be. If I did that, I felt things would take care of themselves. Here I find myself fighting for a job, which is a great way to do it.”

Take care of themselves is right. Neal, who has scored 294 goals in his career, smelled the hatty and went to work. He was able to force a turnover while the Wild had their goaltender pulled, leaving a clear path to the empty net and a 5-2 lead.

The second PTO’er Michael Frolik finished the scoring with assists from Klim Kostin and Barbashev.

For Both Frolik and Neal, this could be their last chance to make a roster. The Blues Traded F Zach Sanford to Ottawa earlier in the day to clear up cap space. The Blues have just over $700,000 available, with the league veteran minimum being $775,000.

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The Blues should be able to afford one veteran if they feel it is needed.

The NHL released a statement earlier this week stating that the league would crackdown on Cross Checking. The Attached video referenced three key areas of concern.  1. Around the boards. 2. Open Ice and 3. Around the Net. While no Cross Checking penalties were called, expect to see more of them during the pre-season.

The Blues’ next game is also at the Enterprise center on Monday Night. They will only stream the game in the St. Louis Metro area via the Bally Sports Midwest app. For those outside of St. Louis, they can hear the game on the 101 ESPN app.

Expect to see a majority of players that did not play on Saturday night. Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Jordan Binnington should make their Pre-Season debut.

Till Next time Hockey fans,

I am Bleeding Blue wit ya.

Guy “Hawaii Blues Fan” Bensing

Guy@stlfanreport.com

@hawaiibluesfan @Bluenotereport

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