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Penguins’ Neal called for boarding Del Zotto; could call from NHL be next?

Mar 4, 2014, 11:04 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders Getty Images

Could James Neal, a repeat offender within hockey discipline circles, be expecting another call from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety?

Neal, the Pittsburgh Penguins forward, was given a minor penalty for boarding after a high hit on Nashville Predators’ defenseman Michael Del Zotto late in the first period of Tuesday’s game. A replay of the hit can be viewed here.

Neal hit Del Zotto as the blue liner’s back was partially turned to the play. Neal’s left forearm also came up and appeared to make contact with the back of Del Zotto’s head.

Del Zotto stayed in the game – his next shift after the incident came early in the second period.

Neal has already had a run-in with the league for a knee to the head of Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand in December. As a result, Neal was handed a five-game suspension.

Neal and Del Zotto also have a history with each other.

Last spring, the Penguins announced Neal suffered a concussion after an elbow from Del Zotto when he was still with the New York Rangers. You can see the video by clicking here.

  1. lowenni - Mar 4, 2014 at 11:11 PM

    Seriously? This guy needs to clean up his act. He’s way too talented to have the reputation he’s getting as a dirty player. He doesn’t need to be in order to be effective.

    • c9castine - Mar 5, 2014 at 2:04 AM

      Wasn’t on purpose del sot to went down as Neal was coming in. Tough luck that’s that

      • hockey412 - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:23 AM

        Eh, I don’t know…I certainly don’t think he meant it to be as ‘pronounced’ as it was (DZ was going down, you’re right) but he still hit him in the back.

        Anyone who remembers the little fancy dancer’s (DZ) elbow to the face on Neal last year on this same play might conclude he was seeing red when he saw him do it to Malkin. It’s possible. He needs to reign it in, he’s only a weapon when he’s on the ice. Great player than makes some bad decisions, Danny needs to get him right.

        On another note, while I love it when my home team does it, they need to think about these reverse hits before anyone touches the puck. Body position is only allowed before anyone touches the puck if both players are moving in the same direction, and a pre-puck possession body check is clearly not intended to be ok. Not to mention, especially in DZ’s case last year, it’s dangerous to check a player without even knowing where their head is, etc.

      • c9castine - Mar 5, 2014 at 12:31 PM

        Personally I’m done scolding guys for playing hard hockey these plays are sometimes a result of that. He got the 2 he deserved for not backing off but it was more just an unlucky play because both players involved were playing rough hockey. No need to make everything an issue and problem that needs to be fixed.

  2. pastabelly - Mar 4, 2014 at 11:19 PM

    Guys like Neal and Marchand are talented and dirty. Those two attributes aren’t mutually exclusive.

    • drewsylvania - Mar 5, 2014 at 6:40 AM

      The past couple years, Neal is by far the dirtier player. At least Marchand doesn’t board people over and over again.

      • jpelle82 - Mar 5, 2014 at 9:59 AM

        he’s too small to hit anyone in the head and too weak to really board anyone. he does what he can physically do instead, crosscheck, highstick, low-bridge, slash, and slew foot. doesnt make him any less dirty, he’s just less likely to cause injury because he’s small.

    • rrsm53 - Mar 5, 2014 at 7:01 AM

      oh please wake up, Marchand is a pest period. He pisses people off he doesnt go around boarding people or kneeing them in the head. Neal like a few other Pens are dirty your Boy Crosby the biggest whiner doing cheap shots with his stick constantly and Malkin the same way.

  3. deisel19 - Mar 4, 2014 at 11:20 PM

    I don’t think the hit was that bad tbh. Del Zotto was throwing a reverse check a second earlier on Malkin and Neal came in to finish Del Zotto off. His primary point of contact was the hip and his momentum lead to the arm being near his head. Anytime you take a hit and slow it down, it’s going to appear the player had a lot of time to react but I think it was just a bang-bang play. Neal deserved the 2 minutes for boarding and nothing more in my opinion.

    • stakex - Mar 4, 2014 at 11:29 PM

      A Pens fan point of view I would assume….

      • c9castine - Mar 5, 2014 at 2:05 AM

        Ever occur to you that some people are just as biased against the pens as you accuse the fans of being biased for them?

        Deep though, I know..

      • hockey412 - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:29 AM

        Yes, because anyone that has an opinion not in line with yours has to be a Pens fan and therefore biased in the other direction, which makes it wrong. That’s like me saying in response to that “Democrat, I assume….”

        Oh and anyone against the B’s is from Montreal hahaha I love that one.

    • shortsxit34 - Mar 5, 2014 at 3:56 AM

      He made contact with the head because his arms were up. 90% of these hits would be prevented if players kept their sticks on the ice.

  4. broadstreetbeatdown - Mar 4, 2014 at 11:30 PM

    I guess the Pens had to replace the sleazy Matt Cooke after he cleaned up his game and went to Min. Its a shame that Neil chooses to be such a scummer because he has serious skills.

    • cheesesteak75 - Mar 5, 2014 at 5:50 AM

      Did you see the game?

  5. stakex - Mar 4, 2014 at 11:37 PM

    With his record, this hit will certainly earn him some attention from the league. I doubt he will receive any sort of long suspension since Del Zotto was alright, but this hit is pretty dirty. A few points:

    1.Its square on the numbers, and Del Zotto did not turn away from the hit immediately prior to it.

    2. Neal holds up a bit, but from the angle shown does seem to make contact with Del Zotto’s head. Considering how anti-headshot the league is, ANY head contact is going to draw attention.

    3. I think the biggest issue for Neal is that he leaves his feet. If the rest of the hit is clean, you can leave your feet a bit when finishing a check…. but when that hit is from behind, with possible head contact, leaving your feet is a one way ticket to the press box.


    No doubt the hit isn’t the worst we’ve seen this year, and if Neal didn’t have a record I would say its 50/50 if he gets any sort of suspension…. but with a five game suspension already under his belt for virtually assaulting another player this season, its hard to see the league not giving him a time out for this one.

  6. therooneyskilledwebster - Mar 4, 2014 at 11:55 PM

    I’m shocked, shocked by this gutless, cowardly act.

  7. csilojohnson - Mar 4, 2014 at 11:56 PM

    the hit really wasnt that bad…

  8. getinthefastlane - Mar 5, 2014 at 12:00 AM

    I’m going to try and spin this in a different direction. And I think it was a good minor penalty call as a pens fan.

    If the league is going to discipline every minor boarding call why not just make it a game misconduct and move on. That player is done for the game and that hurts the team. If that player gets suspended for the next game, then that team replaces him and does not lose a bench spot. If the rules changed whereas your player is suspended and you cannot replace that bench spot I bet the players that do break the rule are seen as a liability.
    Please correct me if I’m wrong on the rules with suspensions.

    I am simply tired of league discipline. Make it a major and hurt the team. Make it a suspendable call and don’t replace the bench spot. Make it a minor call with no supplemental discipline. Can we pick one of the three?

  9. chanceoffleury - Mar 5, 2014 at 12:01 AM

    James, c’mon man! We’ve been through this before.

    I’m in such a mixed state of emotions as Pens fan with him this season. On one hand he’s had an incredible year and when he’s not taking cheap shots he’s really upped both his defense and passing game this year. But between this crap and the persistent embellishment calls, he’s making it reaaaaaaally tough to defend him. And he really is one of my favorite players when he’s thinking straight. It’s disappointing to see he obviously didn’t take the suspension and cleaning up his hitting that seriously.

    I think he’ll get a call. As dirty as his reputation is, he really doesn’t get away with anything that borderline. He’s past the point of ever being allowed to receive the benefit of the doubt, imo. And since he was just suspended 3 months ago it’s easy for the league to justify disciplining him again. If he gets suspended, even a game, I’ll be interested to hear what Shero and co. say and do this time. They’re sorta between a rock and a hard place on that one. He’s a little unique because normally guys with as bad of a reputation as he’s developing aren’t such impact players. Neal is a core player, fits into the system perfectly, and the team is built around his strengths. Right wing finishers that can keep up with Malkin’s hockey iq are few and far between on the Pens, especially right now. By scratching him or cutting his ice time you’re hurting the team at a crucial part of the season. Not even from a physical playing standpoint, but right now is when all the mental pieces need to start coming together for your cup run. By screwing over the rest of the team so that the locker room ends up with some vendetta against him seems really retroactive towards that goal. Now blatantly kneeing people in the head and cross checking them into the boards is pretty retroactive towards that goal, too, but I digress. Neal as an individual player being a selfish a-hole is very different than the Pens or anybody else being selfish a-holes by instilling some sort of discipline that is going to hurt the team as a whole more than it will teach one player his lesson. And his contract is just too good when you compare his production to what others in the league are producing in his salary bracket. The key is that his is long term, as well. He could probably get into the 90s if him and Malkin play a whole healthy (and suspension-less) season together. Teams just don’t get rid of players like that and the Pens would be crazy to after sealing that deal 2 seasons ago. If it’s me you die trying to reform him before you consider trading him. In December, they all said the politically correct things that people wanted to hear after such an embarrassing incident. But altogether they sorta swept it under the rug pretty quickly. A lot of that was because it was overshadowed by Thornton’s thing. But as a fan who disagrees with any player, especially ones on my fav team, throwing reckless hits as their standard, I want to see or hear that something is being done to address it. It’s not a good look for Neal, or the Pens as a whole, when this kind of stuff is brushed off and not taken seriously. As cliche as it is, don’t just talk the talk. I wanna see you walk the walk. Prove that it’s taken seriously and won’t be tolerated.

  10. sjsharks66 - Mar 5, 2014 at 12:18 AM

    Honestly, the 2 minutes is enough. He did catch contact with the head at the very end. Sometime the follow through lands the arm on the head. It is not uncommon to see. Yes, it was a board. I do not think he was trying to injure or hit him purposely in the head.

    Wondering why a 2 minute boarding penalty has an article anyways. I believe Glass got a boarding penalty the other night. Wheres that article? Jordan Caron, Salvador, Clowe all got one tonight as well. PHT has been interesting enough with the trade deadline coming up that it does not need these stories.

    I agree Neal has done some cheap stuff the past couple years but this is just fishing for page hits.

  11. ovi8hull16 - Mar 5, 2014 at 12:50 AM

    Neal is such a waste of talent on a piece of trash. At least Crosby developed some class and curbed the whining with age. Neal’s embellishments and dirty hits (even if this one isn’t that bad) make him easy to hate.

    There isn’t another player quite like him. THANK GOD!

    • hockey412 - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:13 AM

      There isn’t another player like Neal? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  12. sjsharks66 - Mar 5, 2014 at 1:00 AM

    Someone just names a player just like him…Marchand.

  13. chanceoffleury - Mar 5, 2014 at 1:03 AM

    Probably worthy to note that Del Zotto and Neal are friends outside of hockey. I can’t remember exactly what the connection is or how they met, but I recall reading that Neal hooked up Richards with Del Zotto when they were in NY together because he’s really good friends with both of them. So the “history” part is probably more just media fuel for an than anything else.

    If you say that, you’re then getting into the whole “intent to injure” argument and what exactly constitutes “intent”. Neal is pretty well liked in the Pens locker room. I just don’t think he’s such an a-hole that he would individually target somebody he calls a friend. I think a better analysis is that Neal is obviously a very, VERY emotional and reactive player. I don’t think he looks at that and says “Oooo, nows my chance to get MDZ back! (insert dirty boarding penalty)”, I think it comes across as “Someone’s hitting Malkin!? I’ll show them! (Insert dirty boarding penalty)…..oh crap that was my friend I didn’t want to hurt him”. My reasoning is that, and I’m going to try and put this as nicely as possible, but had Neal’s hockey ambitions not panned out I don’t think he’d be mesmerizing the world with his bountiful intellect. When you hear somebody like Crosby, or Backes, or Parise, or Lundqvist talk and answer questions, they sound like genuinely intelligent people. They come across as more complex with deeper thought processes. Neal comes across as being more “act now and then cross that consequential bridge when/if I get there”. Just doesn’t seem to be a lot going on up top if ya know what I mean. Not making excuses for him, I just think it was a coincidence that it was DZ. I think he would have laid the same hit if it had been Jones or Ellis instead of Del Zotto. Just poorly reacting to the situation in front of him and nothing more, nothing less.

    • imgoingtowichita - Mar 5, 2014 at 7:24 AM

      Momma says stupid is as stupid does. In a nutshell, the reason St. Louis filled the open Stamkos slot.

  14. phillyphanatic77 - Mar 5, 2014 at 1:05 AM

    There is an obvious bias here but IMO Neal has made himself into somewhat of a villain. I hate the Pens and Sidney Crosby but no one on that team seems to play the game as out of bounds as James Neal. This is one of his more minor transgressions but a player this talented shouldn’t continually stoop to these levels. He seems to be unable to keep himself from headhunting and it’s gonna come back to bite him, whether that means substantial supplemental discipline or just retribution from a much tougher player, I’m not sure. But he needs to change his game.

  15. sumkat - Mar 5, 2014 at 2:34 AM

    Considering he already has a 5 gamer under his belt this season, and that is just the end of his laundry list (The cheap shots he was taking in the Phi/Pitt series a few years back could of filled a career for most player) of his infractions, I would expect him to get a game or two

    All things being equal, I don’t think he’d get anything. It SHOULD of been a penalty, but that’s it.

    But when a guy has an earned reputation, it’s tough to shake

  16. mclovinhockey - Mar 5, 2014 at 6:15 AM

    “I am shocked Neal would have made such a dirty hit”- No one ever

  17. 7mantel - Mar 5, 2014 at 7:05 AM

    Does Neil ever hit a player who is not in vulnerable position ?

    • apwebs87 - Mar 5, 2014 at 5:56 PM

      You are right–Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators does make a lot of questionable hits. If you are talking about James NEAL of the Penguins, maybe you should get his name right before you go on to act like a hockey expert. That being said, I, myself, as a Pens fan did not like the Neal hit on DZ, and felt he definitely deserved the boarding penalty. Nonetheless, I don’t feel as though he deserves a suspension. Even with his track record, and the 5-game suspension earlier this season, Neal’s boarding hit just wasn’t serious enough to warrant disciplinary action from the league. If DZ had been injured, maybe this would be a different conversation though.

      • 7mantel - Mar 5, 2014 at 7:10 PM

        My bad for spelling his name wrong ,long night .But how does my comment give you the idea that I think I’m an expert ! You on the other hand comes across as a self imposed expert with your idea of whats a penalty !

  18. benrob99 - Mar 5, 2014 at 7:46 AM

    Was a bad hit. Neal isn’t an angel. Then again neither is Del Zotto. Or Marchard. Or anybody for that matter. This is hockey FFS. Somewhere along the way in this era of message boards and everyone having an opinion about EVERYTHING… not to mention the biases we’ve built up against each others teams we seem to forget…. IT’S HOCKEY!

  19. titansbro - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    Didn’t see this play so I won’t comment on it specifically. But the knee to Marchand’s head was about as dirty as it gets. And he should have gotten more than 5 games for it. So he should be skating on VERY thin ice with the league.

    • hockey412 - Mar 5, 2014 at 9:06 AM

      Skating on thin ice…I get it…

  20. pahkthecah1387 - Mar 5, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    Neal is one of the dirtiest players in the NHL, from the blatant cheap shot on Braydon Schenn to knees to the head and consitent boarding, this guy does it all. It’s shame he is such a talent, one of these games he will get what is coming to him… look forward to all the Pens fans crying out for justice then.

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