The Edmonton Oilers went into New York to play the Islanders looking to start their season 3-0 for the first time in 11 seasons. They did it. What they also received was confirmation that James Neal was “The Real Deal.”
Now the question has to be asked: Is it possible the Oilers might have actually won a trade?
As I was listening to the Oilers vs. the Islanders hockey game on CHED radio from my home on Vancouver Island, James Neal had scored twice. Suddenly, it struck me that the offseason Neal deal might just be one of the team’s best trades in a long, very long time. Then Neal scored two more, as the Oilers dominated and dis-spirited a Stanley Cup playoff team from last season. That seemed worth a post.
Neal has six goals in three games. That’s pretty good for a guy who only scored seven goals during the entire last season.
What Are the Calgary Flames Thinking?
I know it’s early in the season, but even after three games into the season, I’m thinking the Flames might be sorry they gave up on the 32-year-old Neal after only one season. Neal is off to that good a start.
After being traded to the Oilers for Lucic during the offseason, he has scored in each of his first three games with the team. But, four scores on Tuesday night – that’s incredible. It was also the first four-goal game of Neal’s career. The game included a natural hat trick during the first two periods and scored a final goal in the third.
So, How Is Milan Lucic Doing?
Interestingly, Milan Lucic’s Calgary Flames played on Tuesday night as well. By the time the puck dropped in Calgary, he must have known that the Oilers had won on the Island 5-2 and that Neal had scored four goals.
If you’re any kind of competitive hockey player, and really what hockey player isn’t competitive, you would be watching the scoreboard to see how your trade counterpart would be doing. And, here’s what Lucic would see.
James Neal: Three Games = Six Goals
Milan Lucic: Three Games = Zero Goals (in fact, zero points)
However, Lucic’s winning the battle of winning the battles. That is, he has absolutely accepted the role of being the Flames’ enforcer. He entered Tuesday’s game with 21 penalty minutes, then added five more penalty minutes for fighting with the Kings Kurtis MacDermid. Lucic also had six hits in his 13:07 minutes. He’s physical: give him that.
Is it helping? When Lucic fought with MacDermid, the Flames were losing 3-0, but after the fight, the team tied the game 3-3 and then lost over time; but, one point is better than none. Perhaps Lucic has a positive impact on his team, after all – goal or no goals.
James Neal Sets an Oilers’ Record
Here’s a statistic about Neal that’s a bit surprising, given that The Great One (Wayne Gretzky) played so many seasons with the Oilers. Neal is the first Edmonton Oiler player – ever – to score six goals in the first three games of a season. That’s quite a feat – and a bit surprising given Gretzky’s 50 goals in 50 games, or his incredible teammates like Jari Kurri or Mark Messier.
It’s not like Neal scoring is a surprise; in fact, a look at his career totals shows that he scored 20 or more goals during every one of his first 10 seasons before dropping to seven last season with the Flames. Calgary must have thought Neal was done; but, given his strong start this season, it would seem as if last season were the aberration.
That’s what playing with Connor McDavid on the Oilers’ power play can do for you. Ask Alex Chiasson. (By the way, Chiasson has missed a number of games because of an illness, but hopefully, he’ll be fit to play against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.)
A Final, Beginning Summary
So, here’s where both teams currently are in the season. The Oilers are tied for the lead in the Pacific Division with the Anaheim Ducks with perfect 3-0 records. The Flames’ record in three games is 1-1-1. Certainly, the start is better than most people expected for the Oilers, and perhaps not as good as Flames’ fans would have hoped for.
Here’s thinking that a large part of the Oilers’ success rests on the shoulders of James Neal – who the Oilers radio play-by-play man Jack Michaels kept calling “The Real Deal.”
It looks as if Michaels is right. Oh, by the way, to answer the question I started this post with – “Yes, it looks like the Oilers have finally won a trade.” Ok, at least three games into the season.