Mar 30, 2012; Buffalo, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal (18) on the bench against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

James Neal's continued rise important to Penguins' success in 2013

Ask a group of Penguins fans about what the team needs to do to have success in 2013 and you are bound to get a different answer from all of them.

Some may say that it lays on the shoulders of team captain Sidney Crosby staying healthy and playing a full, or relatively full, season. Make no mistake that Crosby is just as excited as all the fans are to get hockey underway. Crosby will be fine and put up Crosby-like numbers and prove why he is the face of the NHL.

Others might say that to have success the Penguins need goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to bounce back from a humiliating playoff round that saw the rival Philadelphia Flyers fill the net time after time. Fleury gave up 26 goals in six  games as the Pens lost to the Flyers. But Fleury is one of the best goalies in the league and he will prove that again this year.

April 1, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal (18) at the face-off circle against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Philadelphia Flyers won 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Yet others might say that the burden falls on Evgeni Malkin. Malkin was the MVP last year and will want to have a repeat performance. This will be a big help to have him put up the same type of numbers as last season to take some of the pressure off of Crosby.

What about the coaching staff? They will have some pressure on them in the shortened season to make sure everyone is on the same page understanding the system. Every player must help out and backcheck. The defensive end must be tighter. Too many times last year the Penguins got caught thinking too much about offense and good teams like the Flyers took advantage of it.

All these reasons are good, but the biggest reason why the Penguins will have success in 2013 lies with number 18, James Neal. Neal had a great year in 2011-12, scoring 40 goals. He has one of the best wrist shots in the league and he shown that time after time last year playing with Malkin.Neal and Malkin clicked so well last year that the opposing defenses had no answers for them. With Chris Kunitz they made up one of the best lines in the league last year.

If Neal gets off to a hot start it builds his confidence up and balances the line, while taking pressure and double teams away from Malkin.

It cannot be overstated that if Neal has success, so will the Penguins.

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