PENGUINS (9-5-0) vs. JETS (7-4-2)
WHEN: February 15, 2013 - 7:00 p.m. | WHERE: MTS Centre
It’s been a tough first quarter of the season for the Winnipeg Jets, as they have 11 points through their first 12 games and enter Friday’s game against the Penguins having won just two of their last seven tilts. Apart from a three-game win streak in January (with one of those victories a 4-2 defeat of the Penguins the first time these two teams met), consistency has been a big issue for this young Jets team.
|D partners Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien are offensive threats. (Getty Images)
The Jets got good news on Tuesday when defenseman Dustin Byfuglien returned to the lineup against the Flyers after missing the previous five games with an undisclosed injury. The big-bodied blueliner (6-foot-5, 265 pounds), who anchors the top pairing with Tobias Enstrom, has seven points in seven games and is a welcome addition back to their power play. The Jets are also getting another talented big defenseman back in Zach Bogosian, who will make his season debut on Friday after recovering from a wrist injury. Those two plus Jets scoring leader Enstrom, who has 13 points (2G-11A), make Winnipeg’s blue line dangerous offensively.
Despite their skilled players on the back end, the Jets rank among the league’s worst in goals against with an average of 3.25 per game. But they do have a legitimate No. 1 goalie in Ondrej Pavelec, who’s capable of stealing games for his team when he’s on. Pavelec, who's 2-10 in his career vs. Pittsburgh played magnificent the last time the Penguins and Jets met. It’s virtually guaranteed he’ll be in goal Friday as backup Al Montoya suffered a lower-body injury on Tuesday. The Jets had to call up Eddie Pasquale from their American Hockey League affiliate on Wednesday.
While the Jets have the ability to be strong with the man-advantage, their penalty kill has been atrocious through the first quarter of the season. It’s currently the league’s worst, allowing 13 goals on 40 chances for a 67.5-percent success rate. Lately Evander Kane and Alexander Burmistrov, who are more known for their scoring ability than penalty killing prowess, have been the first two forwards over the boards for the Jets when they’re shorthanded in an effort to create problems for their opponent with their speed.
The Jets need more from the young and talented Kane, who led the team with 30 goals last season but has not found the back of the net in his last seven contests. Well, they really need more from all of their forwards, and consequentially Coach Claude Noel had been shuffling his lines trying to find combinations that work. And on Friday Noel will likely be slotting in Eric Tangradi into his lineup, as the Penguins traded the big winger to the Jets on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see where Tangradi fits in.
On Tuesday captain Andrew Ladd scored both Jets goals in a 3-2 loss to Philly, upping his total to a team-leading six for the year. Blake Wheeler’s 11 points (4G-7A) ties him for second on the team with Ladd, and he’s a player the Penguins always point to as someone who’s dangerous. Those two and Bryan Little have been reunited on the first line.
JETS: ANDREW LADD
The Jets captain scored both goals in a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday, upping his total to a team-leading six. After the game, Winnipeg’s fifth loss in seven games, Ladd had pointed words for the media. “Every guy in this room has to look at themselves, first, and realize there’s more to give," Ladd told the Winnipeg Sun. "Everybody. It’s not OK to just go out there and do your job and come off the ice. We want guys to try to make an impact every time they touch the ice, and make things happen.” Look for Ladd, who’s been consistent offensively for the Jets and has a team-leading 20.7 percent shooting percentage, to continue being the leader in doing that for his club.
PENGUINS: JAMES NEAL
We have to go with Neal for a number of reasons, starting with his two-goal performance in Pittsburgh’s 4-2 win over the Senators on Wednesday. And though the MTS Centre is a tough barn, Neal has thrived on the road so far this season. Six of his 10 goals have come away from home, which ranks second in the league (along with his overall goal total). Neal has also been dynamite on the power play, with his six goals there ranking first in the league. And with Winnipeg’s penalty kill dead last in the NHL, Neal may up that total come Friday. Neal has amassed nine points (7G-2A) in eight career meetings against the Jets – including five goals in his last four games.
The Jets were active on Wednesday. After acquiring Eric Tangradi from the Penguins, Winnipeg sent Alexei Ponikarovsky to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a 2013 seventh round draft pick and a 2014 fourth round draft pick. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told the team's official website trading Ponikarovsky was "really more about creating an opening and an opportunity for Eric as opposed to anything with Alexei."
The Penguins recalled forward Beau Bennett from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on Thursday morning and he practiced with the team that afternoon. Get the full story on Bennett here.
Pittsburgh enters Friday's game having gone 15-3 in its last 18 meetings against the Jets. During that stretch the Penguins have scored a total of 73 goals for an average of 4.06 per game.
On Friday defenseman Brooks Orpik becomes just the seventh player in Penguins history to play in 600 career games with the team. Among defensemen, only Ron Stackhouse (621 games played) has appeared in more contests. Barring injury, Orpik will pass him later this season. Orpik made his NHL debut on Dec. 10, 2002 at the Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs – wearing No. 29. Orpik skated 15:58 minutes that night, going even with one shot on goal.
Friday marks four years to the day since Dan Bylsma was appointed head coach on Feb. 15, 2009. Since that day, Bylsma has established himself as one of the top coaches in the NHL. Already, Bylsma has led the Penguins to one Stanley Cup championship (2009); four playoff berths; a franchise-record three 100-point regular seasons; 174 regular-season victories (second-most in team history); and a franchise-best 28 postseason wins.
D Zach Bogosian, wrist
F Antti Miettinen, upper body
G Al Montoya, lower body
Author: Michelle Crechiolo