James Neal of the Pittsburgh Penguins faced nearly as much criticism for how he handled himself after kneeing Brad Marchand in the head as he did for the action itself. He didn’t appear regretful enough for some with his postgame comments following December 7’s violent contests against the Boston Bruins, but he seems to recognize that mistake now.
He spoke to Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and had this to say about how he had acted following the contest:
Right after the game my emotions aren’t settled, and I hadn’t had a chance to look at what I did. Going back, I would have answered things a lot differently, but I can’t. I’m going to learn from that. You kind of let your emotions get the better of you. It’s something I need to be better with.
Head coach Dan Bylsma also spoke to Rossi, and he treated the issue with a refreshing candor that we’ve come to expect from the top-end bench boss. He doesn’t typically make excuses for his players like many coaches, and he approached Neal’s kneeing incident in the same fashion.
Bylsma had this to say about the episode and what he hoped Neal would take away from it:
There needs to be some education there; there needs to be some learning in how he plays the game and how he can play the game. He’s a (former) 40-goal scorer. He has to be able to play, and play that way without crossing the line.
This all comes after the NHL suspended Neal for five games for the knee. He’ll have plenty of time to reflect on how he wants to approach the game from now on.