Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 12/29/13
They call him the Real Deal, and tonight in Columbus, James Neal showed everyone in Nationwide Arena that it’s not just a clever nickname. In one of his most dominant performances in a Penguins sweater, Neal torched the Jackets for three goals, as well as assists on the Penguins other two goals by Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz as the Penguins rolled to a 5-3 victory in Columbus over the Blue Jackets.  All in all, Neal has been a force this season, notching 14 goals and 30 points in only 21 games. But hey, don’t take my word for it.  Check out it out for yourself. Just absolute lasers on the first two, plus the effort from Crosby to find Neal open in the slot on the second one was worth the price of admission. Three Stars: 3. Chris Kunitz-  1 G, 2A, +2: The more he plays, the harder Chris Kunitz makes it for Team canada to keep him off of their Olympic roster.  Another power play goal tonight plus two helpers brings his totals to 21 goals and 21 assists in 41 games, putting him on pace for 42 goals and 84 points. 2. Sidney Crosby- 1 G, 2A, +2 rating: Crosby continues to do what he does best, and that is make plays.  Even when he doesn’t have the puck, 87 in white was a force that Columbus, and most of the league for that matter, had trouble stopping.  Crosby is playing on another level right now, which is a frighting prospect if you’re a fan of one of the other 29 teams in the league. 1. James Neal- 3 G, 2 A, 5 shots: An obvious no-brainer.  Tonight, he was the real deal.  Not much more you can say. A few other things of note.. Jeff Zatkoff was strong again tonight in net for the Pens, turning away 25 of 28 shots, and while his save percentage of .893 might not seem all that impressive, he came up with the big saves when the Penguins needed them most, stopping two quick chances by Brandon Dubinsky in the first period. All in all, tonight was a good win for the Pens, helped along by a few outstanding individual efforts from Neal and Crosby.  Columbus has played Pittsburgh tough every game this year, forcing the Pens to take them as a serious threat and division rival. Pittsburgh closes out its four game road trip Tuesday night when the fly to Newark to take on the Devils.
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