WINNIPEG - After hosting last season's Western Conference champions, the San Jose Sharks, two nights ago and coming up on the short end of a 3-2 score, it doesn't get any easier for the Winnipeg Jets (30-31-6) with the defending Stanley Cup champions in town tonight.
If the last meeting between the Jets and Pittsburgh Penguins (40-16-8) is any indication, it will be a fast and physical affair when the two teams meet for the final time this season. A total of 87 hits were dished out in that first meeting, before Pittsburgh's number 87 scored the overtime winner to hand the Jets a 4-3 loss.
"For us, if we skate well, we get to hits and we finish our hits," said head coach Paul Maurice. "When you play Pittsburgh, they skate so well. Your chance to compete with them is you're going to have to skate exactly as well as they do…They've had a lot of success as a team, and nobody likes to get run around on and they'll give it back to you."
Video: PREGAME | Paul Maurice
One of the hits in that contest came from Evgeni Malkin on Blake Wheeler late in the game. Malkin was called for interference on the play, and while Wheeler said in the days following the game his neck was still sore, the Jets captain has put that behind him. Instead of revenge, his focus is on getting two points tonight.
"It's a big game for our team," Wheeler said at MTS Iceplex yesterday. "My priorities rest in trying to get a win for our team. There's no room for anything outside of that."
Maurice agrees with Wheeler. Both point to the fact the Jets sit five points back of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference as a reason to stay disciplined, even more so with Pittsburgh's power play - third best in the league - running at 22.3 per cent.
"We're not in a position right now to burn the game by taking penalties on extra hits. We don't want our guys chasing hits," Maurice said. "We don't want them covering 15 extra feet to make a hit to make a point. We want them doing one job, doing it right."
Video: PREGAME | Chris Thorburn
Defensively, the Jets have been doing a lot of things right. The team was 15 seconds away from back-to-back shutouts in wins over St. Louis (3-0) and Colorado (6-1), before the loss to the Sharks on Monday. Dating back to Feb. 14, the Jets are 5-2-2 in their last nine games.
"It's a matter of us being confident in the plays we make, simplifying the plays, and making them when they're there, and realizing it's okay to cut a play off and fight the next battle," said Chris Thorburn. "We feel we've put some good hockey together recently and even before the break. It's just a matter of maintaining that consistently and building off that."
Thorburn skated in his usual spot alongside Andrew Copp and Marko Dano in the morning skate. Similarly, the other forward lines and defensive pairs remain the same as Monday. Toby Enstrom didn't take part in the morning skate, but Maurice says the defenceman is "100 per cent" and ready to play tonight.
Video: PREGAME | Nikolaj Ehlers
While most of the Jets blue line remains intact, Pittsburgh will be without Olli Maatta (hand), Trevor Daley (knee), and Kris Letang (upper body) tonight. Forward Bryan Rust also won't play due to an upper body injury.
Even with those injuries, Nikolaj Ehlers knows the Penguins still have a lot of firepower, especially Sidney Crosby, who holds a slim two-goal lead over Patrik Laine for the league lead in goals.
"If we play the way we played against them in Pittsburgh, and the way we've been playing lately, we're giving ourself a pretty good chance," Ehlers said. "We want to play fast, we want to use our speed as much as we can and bring pucks to the net. We have to use it as smart as we can, and it's going to be a big part of the game tonight."
Connor Hellebuyck (22-16-3, .911 save percentage) will start for the Jets, while Matt Murray (24-8-3, .925 save percentage) counters for Pittsburgh. Puck drop is at 7 pm CT.
- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com
Video: PREGAME | Andrew Copp
JETS GAME NOTES
The Winnipeg Jets play the second-to-last game of a six-game home stand tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins…Winnipeg's record on the homestand fell to 2-2 with a 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Monday night…Josh Morrissey and Mark Scheifele scored for the Jets in the loss to San Jose…Pittsburgh has won two games in a row and begins a five-game road trip tonight…The Jets finish the homestand, which is their longest of the season, Saturday night against the Calgary Flames.
East Woes Healing
With points in four consecutive games against Eastern Conference opponents, the Jets have improved to 9-13-4 against Eastern Conference teams this season, but are 2-7-2 against Metropolitan Division teams, which is the worst mark by a team in the Central Division...Last season the Jets went 12-15-5 against the Eastern Conference.
Long Way to the Top
When facing one of the eight teams in the NHL with 80 points this season - including the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Jets are 5-13-2, including 4-1-0 against the Chicago Blackhawks…Against the rest of the league, the Jets are 25-18-4…The Jets are averaging 2.75 goals for against the top eight teams, compared to 3.04 goals for against the rest of the league.
The Road Ahead
The Jets are three points back of the St. Louis Blues for the second and final wild card spot in the Western Conference, but the Blues have three games in hand…Of the 15 games the Jets have left in the regular season, 10 are against teams currently holding a playoff spot…The Jets have a combined record of 11-13-2 this season against the teams they have remaining on their schedule.
The Jets are in a stretch of 11 of 15 games at MTS Centre…The Jets have played 34 games on the road this season, compared to 33 games at home…The Jets have played the most games in the NHL this season with 67, which is five games more than the Carolina Hurricanes, who have played the least.
Special Teams Notes
- The Jets are 4-for-22 (18.2%) on the power play in their last five games and have scored a power play goal in three consecutive games.
- The Jets are a perfect 10-for-10 on the penalty kill in their last three games.
- The Jets have played 37:18 more on the power play than on the penalty kill at home this season, but have played 47:35 more on the penalty kill than on the power play on the road.
- The Jets have been shorthanded 78 times in the third period this season, which is the most in the league.
tonight's game features seven of the top 30 scorers in the NHL…The Jets are the only team in the NHL with four players in the top 30 in scoring, while the Penguins are in the only other team with three players in the top 30.
Wall of Helle
Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck has stopped 78 of 81 shots in the last three games for a .963 save percentage…He's started the last 11 games for the Jets, going 5-3-2 with .915 save percentage…Among goaltenders that have played 1,000 minutes or more this season, Hellebuyck is tied for fifth in the NHL with a .948 save percentage in games the goaltender's team wins.
More from Mo
Josh Morrissey scored his fourth goal of the season Monday against San Jose, which continued his increased offensive production in the second half of the season…After posting seven points (1g, 6a) in his first 46 games this season, Morrissey has 10 points (3g, 7a) in his last 21 games…On the season, he is sixth in scoring by NHL rookie defencemen with 17 points (4g, 13a) in 67 games…Defensively, Morrissey is fourth among NHL rookie defenceman with 126 hits and fifth with 104 blocked shots.
Post All-Star Breakout
Rookie Patrik Laine (10g, 9a) and Mark Scheifele (6g, 13a) are tied for sixth in NHL scoring since the all-star break with 19 points each in 15 games…Laine has points in 11 of the 15 games, while Scheifele has points in nine of the 15 contests.
Jets vs. Penguins All-Time Records
At MTS Centre: 3-3-1