PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby has tormented the Winnipeg franchise throughout his career, getting 13 goals and 35 points in 21 games against the team that formerly played in Atlanta. But he has never opposed the Jets since they relocated to Winnipeg after last season.
Crosby sat out the first three Jets-Penguins games this season, but will be in the lineup Tuesday night as Winnipeg attempts to remain in playoff contention and Pittsburgh looks to build on its seven-game home ice winning streak.
The Jets will be missing center Nik Antropov (lower-body injury), who was hurt in the second period of a 4-3 loss to Carolina on Sunday. He has three goals in three games and five goals in eight games, so his absence is a setback for the Jets, who will be playing away from MTS Centre for only the third time in their last 14 games.
Ben Maxwell, scoreless in four games earlier this season for Winnipeg, was called up from St. John’s (AHL) to take his place. Maxwell was traded to Anaheim in November, but was later reclaimed on waivers. He has one assist in 10 NHL games this season.
Maxwell’s first game with the Jets since Nov. 6 will be Crosby’s first game at Consol Energy Center since Dec. 5 because of concussion-like symptoms that kept him out for 40 games. Crosby has five assists in three games since returning to play.
Jets forward Blake Wheeler’s not-entirely-serious reaction: Couldn’t he have waited a few more games to come back?
“It’s great to see him back on the ice,” Wheeler said following the morning skate at Consol Energy Center. “Any time you get a player of his caliber back, it’s exciting for us as players and exciting for the fans as well.”
What the Jets can’t do, they said, is get too caught up in defending against Crosby and forget about the lines centered by NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.
“You start talking about Crosby this, Crosby that – he’s a great player, he’s the best in the game, but if you get caught up in it you’re going to be nervous and you’re going to be thinking about where he is on the ice,” defenseman Zach Bogosian said. “That being said, they have a lot of other players that can out the puck in the back of the net. They’ve been doing a really good job with him out of the lineup and, so, with him in it, it makes them that much better. I wouldn’t say he’s not intimidating – I think he is – but you’ve got to get the job done and get the two points.”
The Jets, currently four points behind Washington in the race for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, finish up with seven of their final 10 on the road. They’re beginning a Pittsburgh-Washington-Nashville road trip then, after playing two home games, they make late-season swing to face the Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida and the New York Islanders.
All these road games must be of concern to the Jets because, as well as they have played at home by going 23-11-4, they are only 11-19-4 on the road. Only Columbus and Edmonton have fewer road points than the Jets’ 26.
“We’ve been resilient all year long. We’ve had bumps in the road and we've come back stronger because of it,” Wheeler said. “It’s crunch time now; it’s a huge game for us. It’s a huge game as well for them; they’re fighting to get on top of the Eastern Conference. We more than respect what they bring to the table and it’s a pretty good team, but we truly believe that if we play a certain way we’re going to give ourselves a shot to win.”
But that road record …
“Well, if we play well on the road (now), we could possibly make the playoffs because of it,” Wheeler said. “It would be a great ending to the script because of all the hardships we’ve had on the road if we’re able to salvage our season and make a strong push for the playoffs here, it’s going to be because we play well on the road here these last 10 games.”
Winnipeg’s projected lineup:
Andrew Ladd – Bryan Little – Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane – Andrew Burmistrov – Kyle Wellwood
Tim Stapleton – Ben Maxwell – Antti Miettinen
Tanner Glass – Jim Slater – Spencer Machacek
Tobias Enstrom – Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey – Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart – Grant Clitsome