Pens Push: Neal on my prediction, Asham on his Mario Moment, and Bylsma on his leaders.


Some quick hits after the Penguins’ 3-1 victory over Montreal at Consol Energy Center on Thursday night:

= RW James Neal’s response to my telling him that I predicted him to score 17 goals this season: “That’s brutal. I’ve never scored less than 20.”

I attempted to fall on the sword, admit the error of my ways, and perhaps even take credit for providing him some inspiration – except that it was clear he hadn’t read the blog post of my annual goal predictions.

“Maybe I won’t talk to you anymore,” Neal said.

I sat down next to him, not sure how to take that comment. I offered to Neal that he could call me out upon scoring his 18th goal, which at this point might come before C Sidney Crosby returns (not really). I said he could say, No. 18 was for the jerk with long, graying hair!

“I might do that,” Neal said, smiling.

As I report in the Friday’s print edition, there are no talks on a contract extension between Neal’s agent, Pat Morris, and Penguins GM Ray Shero. That doesn’t mean Shero plans on letting Neal, an impending RFA, go anywhere.

“Like any other player we’ve wanted to sign we’ll find a way to sign him,” Shero said, “and we’ll find a way with James as well.”

= D Brooks Orpik, in his first game since April, and coming off a re-aggravation of an abdominal injury that required offseason surgery, played 4:24 on the PK against Montreal. He only played 17:54 overall, so that means about 25 percent of his ice time was on the PK. So much for the HE’S NOT REALLY READY, HE’S JUST PLAYING BECAUSE (D KRIS) LETANG IS OUT theory.

= RW Arron Asham said his fist-pump goal celebration is indeed tribute to Penguins legend Mario Lemieux.

“You didn’t notice that last year in the playoffs?” he said.

I shrugged then asked if he would pull out any other variations of Lemieux’s graceful goal celebrations.

“No, those other ones are his,” Asham said. “But I’ve been doing this one, and I hope he’s OK with it.”

Season is not a month old, but I’d say Asham and D Ben Lovejoy are neck-and-neck for this season’s “Good Guy” award.

= How to dominate a game without registering a shot: deliver a hit, recorded two apiece of takeaways and blocks, go 13-for-21 in the circle, and play 3:25 of your 21:30 shorthanded to help limit the Canadiens to six shots four man-advantages.

Me, beating a rented mule: C Jordan Staal is really, really good.

= Late Monday night, after a 2-1 loss at Winnipeg, a second straight regulation loss, the Penguins were without a handful of key players, facing a next-night game at Minnesota, with excuses ready at their disposal.

Now they are 5-2-2, and looking like a good bet to get through this treacherous October (13 games) in decent shape, with Crosby (concussion) and C Evgeni Malkin seemingly soon to return.

“First of all, I think the game against Winnipeg, our start, wasn’t indicative of our team and the way we want to play,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “The leadership of our group responded the next game – Staalsy, (LW Chris) Kunitz, (D Paul) Martin, (D Zbynek Michalek) in particular. These guys just came back with a superb effort in Minnesota, played really well.

“That was a big game for us. You’re looking at the possibility of tough nights, back-to-back, losing some games – and getting that win, that team win, the way we won it, was big leadership from our key guys in our group.

“That (was) built on tonight. We had a little more jump in our step coming into this game.”

Not sure the last time a coach has won the Jack Adams Award in consecutive seasons, but Bylsma should be the clubhouse leader at this point in the young NHL season.