Neal seeks offense as Flames host Golden Knights

CALGARY, Alberta — James Neal and the Vegas Golden Knights both experienced the euphoria of a remarkable run to the Stanley Cup final during the team’s expansion season.

Neither Neal nor his former team has had that magic continue on to 2018-19.

After signing a five-year free agent deal over the summer, Neal has struggled in his new home and has just three goals and a measly assist in 20 games with the Calgary Flames, who host Vegas on Monday.

While his season-opening slump may have gone unnoticed somewhat in Vegas, it hasn’t in Calgary, where fans and media are never shy with their critiques of player performances.

“We’re in a hockey market here,” Neal told reporters on Sunday. “The fans are asking, the media is asking: ‘What’s going on’ It takes time, too, to be comfortable in a new place. It takes time to get used to new linemates. It won’t always be like last year, going and scoring five goals in the first three games. It just doesn’t happen like that every year.”

Neal’s former teammates are playing the second night of a back-to-back after getting a 6-3 win at Edmonton.

“I’m not trying to make excuses or anything like that, but sometimes when you change teams again, you have to get used to everything again and it’s not easy. It’s obviously been a lot tougher than expected. But I’ll be fine. I’ll be better.”

Neal enters Monday’s contest one point shy of reaching 500 for his NHL career. He’s scored 20 goals in each of the past seven seasons, including 25 in Vegas last year, but is falling off the pace if he is do reach that mark in Calgary,

The Flames prepared for the Golden Knights with a morning practice at Scotiabank Saddledome on Sunday. Head coach Bill Peters spent some time post-practice downplaying what went on the night before when the Flames scored four unanswered goals — three in the third period — to beat the struggling Oilers.

“We went to work a little bit here today, had a quick little skate, we’ll have a quick pre-game (skate) tomorrow and be ready to play a real good Vegas team,” he told nhl.com. “You’ve just got to stay with it. It’s a long year. It’s 82 games – you’ve got to keep the lows and the highs, kinda try and balance them off and be steady.

“And we will be.”

The Golden Knights have had a cooler start to their second season in business. They won 13 of their first 20 games in 2017-18? but just eight over the first 20 this season and are seeking consecutive wins for the second time this season after scoring three times in a span of 2:12 in the third period Sunday.

Cody Eakin, Max Pacioretty and Johnathan Marchessault scored as Vegas scored a season-high six goals and erased a one-goal deficit.

Marchessault scored twice and added an assist to lead the offence and his 10 goals lead the Knights, two ahead of Eakin.

However, it’s Eakin’s commitment to playing in the defensive zone that’s drawing praise in Vegas these days.

“Cody plays a good two-way game for us and he plays his role really well,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant told the team’s official website.

Added Eakin: “Any way you can help, whether it’s offense or defense it’s big for any team.”

Vegas welcomed back defensemen Nate Schmidt from a 20-game suspension for violating the league’s substance program on Sunday. He played 19:38.

“It is great to be back and, in the rotation, again,” Schmidt told reporters after Sunday’s morning skate.

“Just stepping on the ice for the first time; you’re doing what you love and that just makes you excited for it. It’s that feeling to get back out there and getting to play again.”