What to Watch For: Pens vs. Jets
Friday, 02.10.2012 / 4:15 PM ET / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
PENGUINS (30-19-5) vs. JETS (26-24-6)
WHEN: Feb. 11, 2012 - 2:00 pm | WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS | LISTEN: Penguins 24/7 Radio, 105.9 FM
The Winnipeg Jets stole two points on Thursday by pulling out a stunning shootout victory over Southeast Division rival Washington. The Jets were down 2-0 with just over two minutes left in regulation when a pair of power-play goals 12 seconds apart forced overtime and allowed them to take the game in a shootout.
It’s a victory that could be a crucial turning point in Winnipeg’s season, and here’s why. Firstly, instead of falling six points back of the Capitals and the Florida Panthers, who are tied for the top spot with 61 points, the Jets are now just three back of that top rung in their division. And secondly, the Jets displayed the resiliency that proves they can snatch a victory when they need it most.
The Jets have now won two straight and have taken four of six since play resumed following the All-Star break. Right now, they may be four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot – but they’re also within reach of taking the third seed in the East that’s reserved for the Southeast Division leader.
Winnipeg is trending upward despite a lack of goal scoring, as the Jets haven’t tallied more than twice in regulation for eight straight games and have the league's third-worst offense. While it’s impressive that they’re finding ways to win despite a shortage of offense, there are several players that need to pick up their production like captain Andrew Ladd, who has gone a season-high nine games without a goal, and Nik Antropov, who has one shot in his last six games.
But the good news is that they’ve been getting solid goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec, who’s 5-2-1 in his last eight appearances and has earned 20 of their 26 wins. The sizeable netminder exemplifies the work ethic that’s the trademark of his team as they battle for a playoff spot, as he keeps the Jets in games and is capable of stealing them.
It also helps that they’ve gotten Evander Kane back in the lineup after the tough winger missed seven games with a concussion. Kane hadn’t scored in the 11 games prior to going down, but the 20-year-old scored his team-leading 19th goal of the season in his second game back on Thursday against the Caps and it’s only a matter of time before he rediscovers his game.
JETS: ONDREJ PAVELEC
The Jets have been struggling to score goals, as they haven’t mustered up more than two in each of their last eight games. However, they’ve won four of six since play resumed following the All-Star break due in large part to the man between the pipes. Ondrej Pavelec is the rock of this Jets squad and will be a player to watch on Saturday, especially if his team continues to struggle offensively. The big goalie never quits on a play and has proven he’s capable of stealing games on his own. The only knock against him entering Saturday’s game is that he’s struggled against Pittsburgh in his career, stringing together a 1-8 record vs. the Penguins.
PENGUINS: JORDAN STAAL
Jordan Staal will be making his return to the lineup against the Jets after missing 15 straight with a knee injury, and look for him to make an immediate impact as head coach Dan Bylsma said he’ll be used “significantly” on Saturday. While he won’t assume his usual 20-plus minutes, all situations role, Staal will center a line with Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis and play upwards of 15 minutes while seeing time on the second power play. He’d been having a career year before this long-term injury, piling up 15 goals through 34 games, so the strong and powerful center’s return can be compared to “winning the lottery and/or making a big deal at the deadline,” as Cooke put it.
Beginning with Saturday’s visit from Winnipeg, the Penguins will play three straight games, six of their next eight and 10 of their next 14 at CONSOL Energy Center between Feb. 11-March 11. Entering Saturday’s game the Penguins have won four straight home games. Between Saturday and the remainder of the regular season, the Penguin will play 17 of their last 28 games on home ice. Since 2006-07, the Penguins have a home record of 20-5-5 in the month of February.
Pittsburgh enters Saturday’s game having won 9 straight home games against the Jets. Winnipeg’s last win at Pittsburgh came on Dec. 27, 2006 (4-2) at Mellon Arena when they were still the Atlanta Thrashers. Since then, the Jets are 0-7-2 in Pittsburgh.
Since the beginning of last season the Penguins are 12-2-1 at home against the Southeast Division. If you subtract the Washington Capitals from that number, the Penguins are 11-0 against the other four teams from the Southeast Division.
Jordan Staal is back. The Penguins center has missed the last 15 games with a knee injury suffered Jan. 6 against the New York Rangers, but is expected to play Saturday against Winnipeg.
“Jordan Staal will be playing in the game (Saturday),” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “As long as he had, as we expected him to (have), a good day on the ice, he’ll be in the lineup (Saturday).”
(FOR THE FULL DETAILS ON STAAL'S RETURN AND THE WAY HE'LL BE USED, CLICK HERE).
Bylsma announced Thursday that Tyler Kennedy has a high-ankle sprain and is looking like 4-6 weeks for recovery. Kennedy sustained the injury late in the third period of Pittsburgh's game against New Jersey on Feb. 5.
F Arron Asham, illness/concussion-like symptoms (11)
C Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (27)
D Simon Despres, knee (14)
F Tyler Kennedy, high ankle sprain (1)
F Kyle Wellwood, flu (2)
F Tim Stapleton, lower body (9)
Author: Michelle Crechiolo