JETS (24-14-8) at PENGUINS (26-12-8)
TV: TSN3, ROOT
PITTSBURGH -- Two key players could return to the Pittsburgh Penguins when they face the Winnipeg Jets at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday.
Defenseman Kris Letang and forward Patric Hornqvist each could play Tuesday after participating in Pittsburgh's morning skate. Letang missed one game after sustaining a concussion during the Penguins' 3-2 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 20.
Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Letang and Hornqvist, as well as forward David Perron, will be game-time decisions. Perron left practice early Monday.
Letang, who is third on the Penguins with 32 points, took part in Pittsburgh's morning skate before its game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 21, but did not take the ice for warm-ups after being labeled a game-time decision. He skated on his usual pairing with Paul Martin on Tuesday and said the Jets will be a formidable test coming off of the All-Star break.
"They forecheck really well," Letang said. "They have big guys, and obviously on the back end they have guys that can jump in the rush, so managing the puck is going to be huge. … You want to get everybody in and involved in the game. Make sure you have short shifts and get back into it."
Hornqvist, who has missed 11 games with a lower-body injury, took the ice for the second consecutive day and skated on the Penguins' top line to the right of center Brandon Sutter and left wing Beau Bennett. He is fourth on Pittsburgh with 13 goals in 33 games and had a goal and an assist against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 23 before sustaining his injury against the Washington Capitals four days later.
The Penguins will be without centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who each missed the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game because of a lower-body injury. Crosby joined the Penguins for the Tuesday skate and could return against Washington on Wednesday, but Malkin is not expected to resume skating for the next few days, Johnston said Monday.
Jets coach Paul Maurice said he expects the Penguins' best effort, even without their two most notable players.
"There's guys that are going to get a chance to play a little more, and they don't get that chance," Maurice said. "They're missing some key pieces to their lineup, and I think some of the other players in their lineup don't get talked about as much as they would in other markets, maybe. But you have guys coming in that'll get a chance to play a little bit more, and then you got some guys coming in that are getting their chance that they haven't gotten.
"So, I think there's going to be some energy, some intensity. Nervousness isn't the right word, but anticipation. And that's our challenge."
Forward Mathieu Perreault will return to Winnipeg's lineup after missing two games because of an upper-body injury, Maurice said. He was at second-line left wing next to center Mark Scheifele and right wing Michael Frolik at the morning skate.
Here are the projected lineups:
Andrew Ladd – Bryan Little – Blake Wheeler
Mathieu Perreault – Mark Scheifele – Michael Frolik
Evander Kane – Adam Lowry – Chris Thorburn
Matt Halischuk – Jim Slater – Anthony Peluso
Ben Chiarot – Dustin Byfuglien
Toby Enstrom – Zach Bogosian
Jacob Trouba – Jay Harrison
Scratched: TJ Galiardi, Adam Pardy, Paul Postma
Injured: Grant Clitsome (upper body), Mark Stuart (lower body)
Beau Bennett – Brandon Sutter – Patric Hornqvist
David Perron – Nick Spaling – Chris Kunitz
Mark Arcobello – Marcel Goc – Steve Downie
Zach Sill – Andrew Ebbett – Craig Adams
Paul Martin – Kris Letang
Robert Bortuzzo – Christian Ehrhoff
Simon Despres – Rob Scuderi
Scratched: Scott Harrington, Bryan Rust, Scott Wilson
Injured: Sidney Crosby (lower body), Evgeni Malkin (lower body), Blake Comeau (upper body), Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Olli Maatta (upper body)
Status report: Comeau skated with Hornqvist prior to the practice, but isn't expected to return to the Penguins within the next 5-7 days. … The Jets will start Pavelec to face Greiss on Tuesday. Pavelec is 2-12-1 against Pittsburgh in his career.
Who's hot: Perron scored at least one goal in three consecutive games before being held without a point over his past two. He has five goals in eight games with the Penguins. … Ladd has scored at least one point in 10 of his past 11 games. Over that stretch, he has scored 14 points and five goals.