Already atop the Pacific Division, the Calgary Flames hope to get even stronger after veteran winger James Neal returned to the lineup Saturday night. Neal, who signed a five-year, $28.75MM deal in the offseason, has struggled in his time with the Flames with both injury and production, posting just five goals in 56 games. However, Calgary hopes they can get the 31-year-old going just in time for the playoffs, giving them another weapon they haven’t really had all season.
Neal, who has had 10 straight season with 20 goals or more throughout his career, fared well in his first game back.
“I thought he was real good,” said Flames’ head coach Bill Peters after Saturday’s win. “Really happy with Nealer’s play. I thought he was physical. I thought he was engaged in the game. I thought he played real well.”
Neal has one other key statistic — he has 100 games of playoff experience — a quality that few Flames have, which could be another big asset for the team.
“It felt like a long time (out), but my body feels good and I’m excited to get going,” Neal said prior to Saturday’s welcome-back against the Canucks. “It’s always tough when you get injured but for me, just the way everything was going, I just kind of took it as a positive and rested up and got ready for a big playoff run.”
- The debut of Vancouver Canucks top prospect, Quinn Hughes, could be fast approaching as Postmedia’s Ben Kuzma reports that Hughes was out on the ice this morning, skating effortlessly during skills session. The 19-year-old had a recent test that cleared him of having a broken bone in his foot that he suffered with Michigan during the Big 10 playoffs while blocking a shot. The Canucks hope they can get their 2018 first-rounder out on the ice before their season ends.
- Steve Carp of SinBin.vegas writes that one advantage that the Vegas Golden Knights have, almost guaranteed to be locked into a playoff battle with the San Jose Sharks in the first round, is the team can afford to give injured players some rest. That has been evidenced by forward Max Pacioretty, who landed awkwardly after taking a hit from Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba on Thursday and is listed as day-to-day and with little incentive left until the playoffs, the team is giving him the time he needs to rest up. The same goes from heavily used Marc-Andre Fleury, who is out with a lower-body injury and has missed four straight games. Even Erik Haula, who has missed most of the season, is skating regularly and could be ready to practice when the playoffs start.