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Jets end homestand by hosting Penguins

by Sergei J. Feldman

PENGUINS (19-11-4) at JETS (16-13-5)


LAST 10: Pittsburgh (5-5-0); Winnipeg (7-2-1)

Season Series: It's the second of four meetings between the clubs this season. Winnipeg escaped with a 2-1 home win on Oct. 17. Kyle Wellwood scored eight seconds into the game before Tanner Glass added another later in the first period to lead the Jets, while Zbynek Michalek had the lone goal for the Penguins.

Big Story: The Penguins skate into Winnipeg having won back-to-back home games against Buffalo and Chicago. Also, the Pens will be without defenseman Deryk Engelland, who was suspended for three games for a hard hit against Chicago's Marcus Kruger. The Jets, who've spent most of December at home, are coming off perhaps their best performance of the season, a 4-0 whipping of the Montreal Canadiens before an appreciative sellout crowd on Thursday.

Team Scope:

Penguins: The middle of December hasn't treated the Penguins all too well, as the Pens went through a stretch of four losses in five outings. But the bounced back by routing Buffalo 8-3 on Saturday, they scored the first three goals against the Hawks and held on for a 3-2 win on Tuesday. Evgeni Malkin, who set up all three goals in the win against Chicago, has picked up a lot of the offensive slack concussion-plagued Sidney Crosby, and the Penguins have survived a rash of injuries that would have decimated most teams.

But facing the Jets without a number of key regulars won't be easy.

"They always have good goaltending," forward Chris Kunitz said. "They're really good at their rink. The last 10 games or so I think they're 8-2 or something like that, so it's going to be a good challenge for our team. We know that they're fans get into it. They play really well at home.

Jets: The Penguins' second visit of the season marks the finale of a six-game homestand for the Jets, who are 3-1-1 in the first five after beating the Canadiens. The club's recent impressive play has them without six points of the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers.

Who's Hot: Malkin has 15 points during a six-game scoring streak, including eight points in his last two games. … Leading the Jets has been the play of blueliner Dustin Byfuglien, who has four points in his past five outings.

Injury Report: The Penguins are without Crosby and top defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek due to concussions. Also missing are Paul Martin (lower body), Robert Bortuzzo (concussion) and Dustin Jeffrey (knee). In addition, defenseman Daryl Engelland will begin sitting out a three-game suspension. … The Jets are missing top-line center Bryan Little (foot) and defensemen Randy Jones (upper body) and Derek Meech (lower body).

Stat Pack: The Jets are tied with Boston for the most home victories this season (12). … Pittsburgh is 3-3-0 without Crosby in his second concussion-related absence of the season. … The Penguins are 14-3-2 against the Jets' franchise (including Atlanta) with Malkin in the lineup -- he didn't play in the first meeting this season.

Puck Drop: The Jets are finishing a stretch that has seen them play 11 of 12 at the cozy MTS Centre; they have gotten into the playoff race by going 7-2-1 in the first 10. While they'll be at home again on Friday, the Penguins will be the more rested team -- they've been off for two days and could watch the Jets on Thursday.

"We're gaining some confidence at home and enjoy being in the race," coach Claude Noel said. "It'll be interesting (Friday). We'll have to take short shifts and we're going to have to play smart.

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