PENGUINS (2-1-0) vs. JETS (1-1-1)
WHEN: January 25, 2013 - 8:00 pm | WHERE: MTS Centre
After a fourth place finish in the Southeast Division in their first season since relocating from Atlanta, the Winnipeg Jets return the same core pieces who are one year wiser.
The Jets were led by left winger Evander Kane’s 30 goals and right winger Blake Wheeler’s 64 points in 2011-2012, leading to Winnipeg finishing a respectable 12th among NHL teams in both goals per game (2.7) and power play percentage (17.9).
In four games against the Penguins last season, Kane, Wheeler and the rest of Winnipeg’s power play struggled to carve through Pittsburgh’s third-ranked penalty killing unit. In those contests, Kane was held to just one assist while Wheeler earned three. The Jets took the first game of the season series, 2-1, but dropped each of the remaining three by at least three goals. But Winnipeg’s offense was anything but inefficient during those contests, as it scored a combined 10 goals.
With the addition of veteran center Olli Jokinen, who has played for seven franchises in his 15-year career, the Jets should have more size and firepower down the middle than they had during their last campaign. Jokinen had a resurgent year with the Calgary Flames in 2011-2012, as he earned 23 goals, 38 assists and 61 points during his most productive season since his final stanza with the Florida Panthers in 2006-07, when he earned 71 points. Winnipeg also added former Penguin Alexei Ponikarovsky, who racked up 15 points for the Carolina Hurricanes last season. In his short stint with Pittsburgh during the 2009-2010 season, Ponikarovsky earned nine points in 16 games.
The Jets were haunted by one of the league’s lowest-ranked defenses last season, which allowed Pittsburgh to score 22 combined goals in the teams’ last three meetings. Winnipeg’s 2.95 goals-allowed per game ranked 26th last year while its 80.1 penalty killing percentage was 24th overall.
Winnipeg did not alter its defense during the offseason, as it returns the exact same defensive unit led by offensive blueliners Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom. Though Byfuglien’s offseason conditioning was questioned by some, he’s logged big minutes on the back end for Winnipeg in their first three games – including a game-high 30:27 of ice time against Boston on Monday. Byfuglien, who finished second in scoring among NHL defenseman last season with 53 points (12G-41A) in 66 games, already has a goal and two assists while Enstrom has four assists.
Byfuglien and Enstrom are instrumental on Winnipeg’s power play, and both players will need to spearhead a tighter defensive effort from the Jets blue line. They let a high volume of shots through to goalie Ondrej Pavelec last season, who ranked fifth in the NHL in shots against (2,036) and saves (1,845).
Pavelec signed a five-year contract extension in the offseason and is the Jets’ No. 1 goalie. Al Montoya, who spent last season with the Islanders, will back him up. Pavelec has already seen 98 shots through three games for Winnipeg. He and his team got off to a poor start this season, as he allowed four goals in a 4-1 opening day loss to Ottawa on Jan. 19. After coming out on the wrong end of a shootout against the Bruins Monday, the Jets responded well with an impressive 4-2 win over Washington Tuesday.
Kane and Wheeler both netted their first goals of the season against the Capitals while flanking Jokinen, leading Winnipeg to a 1-1-1 record coming into Pittsburgh.
JETS: EVANDER KANE
Kane finished last season with 30 goals and 57 points in his third NHL season. The 21-year-old Vancouver native will need to be just as productive this year to fuel the Jets’ attack. The fourth overall pick of the 2009 NHL Draft has played a total of 214 NHL games and has 63 goals and 63 assists. He's a gritty competitor with goal-scoring instincts that isn't afraid to play physical and go to the dirty areas.
PENGUINS: TANNER GLASS
Glass, who will be facing his former for the first time since earning five goals and 11 assists for the Jets last season, has already made an impact for Pittsburgh in its first few games. The 6-foot-1 Saskatchewan native displayed his physical style at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, when he dropped the gloves with former Penguin Arron Asham off the opening faceoff on Sunday. In 265 career games played, Glass has netted 13 goals while racking up 311 penalty minutes. Glass netted the game-winning goal for Winnipeg in its 2-1 win over the Penguins on Oct. 17, 2011.
- Pittsburgh enters Friday's game having gone 15-2 in its last 17 meetings against the Jets. During that stretch the Penguins have scored a total of 71 goals for an average of 4.18 per game.
- Pittsburgh won the final three games of the season series between the teams last year by a combined score of 20-10. The Penguins tallied a season-high eight goals against the Jets twice last season (8-5 on Feb. 11 and 8-4 on Mar. 20).
- The Penguins haven’t lost a season series to the Jets since going 1-3 against them in 2005-06.
- Pittsburgh is looking to win three straight road games to begin a season for the second time in three years. The Penguins began the 2010-11 campaign by winning their first three road contests and by posting a four-game road unbeaten streak (3-0-1).
- Since the beginning of the 2010-11 season, the Penguins have scored a NHL-best 24 shorthanded goals. The New York Rangers are the next-closest team with 20. -Pittsburgh’s home opener against Toronto on Wednesday night attracted a CONSOL Energy Center record crowd of 18,641.
- Friday is Penguins captain Sidney Crosby’s first visit to Winnipeg.
- Penguins F Tanner Glass is playing his first game against his former team. Glass spent last season with the Jets, notching career highs across the board in goals (5), assists (11), points (16) and games played (78).
D Zach Bogosian, upper body
F Antti Miettinen, upper body
Author: Wes Crosby