AT THE MORNING SKATE
PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania — Mathieu Perreault is good to go after missing the past two games with an upper-body injury.
Perreault will line up in his usual spot alongside Mark Scheifele and Michael Frolik as the Winnipeg Jets face off with the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at CONSOL Energy Center.
With Perreault coming off IR, the Jets have added defenceman Mark Stuart, retroactive to the time of his injury.
“Nothing’s changed with (Stuart) and his injury – it just didn’t get better as quickly as we would’ve liked,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said.
“He needs a few more days.”
On the other side, both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will miss tonight’s game with lower-body injuries.
Crosby, who suffered his on Jan. 10 against the Montreal Canadiens, and has since been given an injection to treat the injury, did participate in today’s morning skate, but is ineligible to play. An NHL rule stipulates that if a player misses the NHL All-Star festivities due to a previously undeclared injury, he will have to miss his team’s first game back following the break.
Crosby, who said he would miss tonight’s game regardless, could potentially return the lineup on Wednesday when the Penguins meet the Washington Capitals.
Malkin, who leads the Penguins in goals with 19, is in for a more lengthy recovery period. The star centre is not expected to skate for at least the next three or four days, according to Head Coach Mike Johnston.
Forward Patric Hornqvist and defenceman Kris Letang will be game-time decisions.
“They’re missing some key, key pieces to their lineup,” Maurice said. You’ve got guys coming in that are getting a chance to play more, and then you’ve got guys that are getting a chance they haven’t gotten yet. I think there’s going to be some energy and intensity off their bench.
"Nervousness is the wrong word, but some anticipation, some excitement to play. That’s our challenge.”
The Jets (26-14-8) come into the night only two points back of the St. Louis Blues (29-13-4) and Chicago Blackhawks (30-15-2) for second in the Central Division, and continue to pace the Western Conference wild card race, seven points up on the Calgary Flames and eight on the first non-playoff team, the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.
Still, with such a large portion of the schedule still remaining, the Jets aren't satisfied, nor are they getting too comfortable. According to veteran winger Blake Wheeler, “Respect is earned and we’ve got a long ways to go [in the season].”
“When you’re in 10th place and there are teams ahead of you... We’ve seen it before, even in the lockout year. We put a great stretch together at the end of the year and it didn’t matter. We want to be ahead of the game, to be in a position where if you handle your business, you’re taking care of your own destiny.
“We’re not patting ourselves on the back. There’s recognition that we’ve come a long way from where we were before, but it means nothing to us right now.
“We’re worried about Pittsburgh tonight”
The Penguins are of a similar mindset, currently sitting second in the Metropolitan Division, but only a few points up on the wild card teams. Fortunately for them, the discrepancy between the playoff and non-playoff teams is far greater in the East, allowing for some breathing room.
However, anything can happen with 30-plus games to play.
“From the start of the season towards the end, the intensity level rises,” Evander Kane said. “It’s fun to be playing some meaningful hockey down the stretch and the games are only going to get more intense as we near the end of the season.
"It’s going to be a fun atmosphere to play in.”
In their only meeting of the season back on Nov. 6 at MTS Centre, the Penguins grounded the Jets 4-3 in a shootout. Highly regarded as one of the best and most intense games of the season, the Jets will be looking to build on that effort and come out on top this time around.
“For us to be successful against teams like that, we need to get in on the body and limit their time and space,” Adam Lowry, who’s currently second among NHL rookies with 143 hits this season, told JetsTV.
“That’s how our team needs to play every night.”
Ondrej Pavelec will get the start in goal. The 27-year-old has made a combined 74 saves over his last two games – 2-1 and 4-3 wins over the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes, respectively. In 30 appearances this season, Pavelec has a 12-10-6 record, along with a 2.47 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
Thomas Greiss (4-2-3, 2.56GAA, .920SV%) will start for the Penguins.
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com