What to Watch For: Pens vs. Jets
Monday, 03.19.2012 / 5:00 PM / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
WHEN: March 20, 2012 - 7:00 pm | WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS | LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM
The Winnipeg Jets are still very well within the playoff race, as they’re four points behind division rival Washington for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final postseason berth.
But with that being said, every game heading down the stretch has been a must-win for the Jets as they battle for the postseason – especially as the Southeast Division leader Florida has built a seven-point cushion between them and Winnipeg. And after an emotional triumph over the Capitals last Friday, the Jets suffered a devastating letdown on Sunday against Carolina in a 4-3 loss that left the coaches and players angry and disappointed.
The Jets had entered the third period with a 3-2 lead, but let their opportunity to pull into a tie with Washington slip away when Chad LaRose scored the game-winner with just 1:22 left in regulation. It’s a loss that will surely come back to haunt the Jets if they don’t make it past the regular season.
After scoring his third goal in as many games, forward Nik Antropov left in the second period of Sunday’s game with a lower-body injury. Antropov, who has totaled five goals in his past eight games, did not make the trip to Pittsburgh with the team. He and the rest of Winnipeg’s role players played the best on Sunday, as Antropov’s fellow fourth liner Antti Miettinen scored twice in the contest to break a 34-game goalless drought.
The Jets’ best players didn’t perform like they needed to on Sunday, but their overall body of work has been decent. Top-line winger Blake Wheeler saw his six-game point streak halted on Sunday, where he’d recorded four goals and two assists during that stretch. He leads the team with 59 points while Evander Kane’s 28 goals rank first. Kane is riding a five-game point streak and has points in 13 of his last 14 contests for a total of nine goals and eight assists in that span. Offensive defenseman and power-play threat Dustin Byfuglien has two-point efforts in nine of his last 17 games.
Overall, Winnipeg’s offense has picked up after a stretch where they struggled to produce. Since the last time the Jets were shut out back on Feb. 5 by Montreal, Winnipeg has compiled 63 goals through 18 games for an average of 3.53 goals per game. Winnipeg has scored three or more goals in 14 of their last 18 games.
Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec got the loss Sunday in his eighth straight start for the Jets. He and goalie partner Chris Mason are a combined 1-13 in their career against Pittsburgh.
JETS: EVANDER KANE
Evander Kane has elevated his game down the stretch. The 20-year-old winger has been red-hot offensively with points in 13 of his last 14 games, totaling nine goals and 17 points over that span. The third-year forward’s 28 goals lead the team, as does his plus-14 rating. But not only is Kane creating offense, the gritty forward and intense competitor ranks fourth on the team with 150 hits and is a physical force when he’s on the ice.
PENGUINS: EVGENI MALKIN
Malkin put the Penguins on his back the last time these two clubs met and produced a five-point effort (1G-4A) to lead Pittsburgh to a wild 8-5 win. Malkin seems to have a penchant for raising his game when his team needs it most, and they’ll need that more than ever coming off a heartbreaking 3-2 overtime loss to Philadelphia on Sunday. Malkin enters Tuesday’s game with goals in three straight games and points in his last four for a total of seven since being held off the scoresheet back-to-back games on March 7 and 9.
The Penguins enter Tuesday's game having won 10 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 0-8-2 in Pittsburgh.
During its 10-game home winning streak, the Penguins have outscored the Jets, 44-21, for an average of 4.4 goals per game. Pittsburgh has outshot the Jets in all 10 games by an average margin of 33.1 to 27.3. The Penguins have scored at least one power-play goal in seven of the 10 games (13-for-41, 31.7%).
The Penguins' current 10-game home winning streak against the Jets is their second-longest active streak behind the 13-game home winning streak they have against the New York Islanders.
The Penguins have gone 13-2 in their last 15 meetings with Winnipeg and 17-4-2 in the last 23.
The Penguins have won a season-high seven straight home games entering Tuesday's game – the longest active streak in the NHL.
A win Tuesday would equal Pittsburgh’s longest home winning streak since the NHL returned from the lockout (8 games; March 2-April 2, 2008 and Jan. 16-Feb. 18, 2007).
Since Jan. 17 the Penguins have gone 13-1 in their last 14 home games. They have outscored their opponents, 52-30. Pittsburgh’s average goals per game is 3.71 and its goals-against average is 2.09 (30GA/862MIN).
The Penguins have scored at least one power-play goal in six of their last 10 home games (9-for-28, 32.1%).
The Jets are one of the NHL's best home teams, going 23-11-4 in their own barn. But they've struggled mightily away from the cozy MTS Centre, winning just 11 games this season on the road.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has 39 wins this season – the second-highest total of his career (40 in ’06-07) and the third-highest total in franchise history (Tom Barrasso, 43, 1992-93). Although his personal streak of 10 straight wins came to a close Sunday, Fleury carries an 11-game unbeaten streak into Tuesday’s contest (10-0-1). Fleury, the NHL co-leader in wins with 39, has gone 11-1 over his last 12 home starts. Fleury is 20-2-2 in his last 24 starts overall dating back to Jan. 13 at Florida.
Jets forward Nik Antropov left early in the second period of Sunday's game with a lower-body injury and did not return to the game. He did not make the trip to Pittsburgh with the team. The Jets recalled Ben Maxwell from the St. John's IceCaps to take his place in the lineup.
G Brent Johnson, undisclosed (12)
F Joe Vitale, undisclosed (1)
F Eric Fehr, upper body (1)
F Chris Thorburn, lower body (3)
Author: Michelle Crechiolo