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Penguins host Jets looking for 12th straight home win

by Corey Masisak

JETS (19-20-5) at PENGUINS (30-12-1)


Last 10: Winnipeg 5-5-0; Pittsburgh 8-2-0

Season series: This is the first game of two. The Penguins have won 17 of the past 20 against the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers, dating to March 2008. Winnipeg is 2-6 against Pittsburgh since the move.

Big story: Pittsburgh will be seeking its 12 consecutive victory at Consol Energy Center; Winnipeg will try to avoid a third straight loss and second in as many days.

Team scope:

Jets: The once imposing top eight in the Western Conference has looked more accessible for teams in the bottom seven of late, but this inconsistent team has not taken advantage.

Winnipeg has had a chance to make the same move the Dallas Stars have (Dallas has caught the Minnesota Wild and is two points shy of the Phoenix Coyotes for eighth in the conference), but instead the Jets have lost games to the Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators since Dec. 17.

And there could be a goaltending controversy brewing. Starter Ondrej Pavelec responded to watching backup Al Montoya get four straight starts by allowing four goals on 29 shots in a 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday. Pavelec is 3-10-2 since Nov. 17, yielding at least five goals four times and being pulled after three goals allowed on six shots in another. Montoya is 6-1-1 in that span, not allowing more than four goals.

Penguins: Pittsburgh continues to roll despite injuries at all positions. The general health of the defense corps has improved, but the forwards are still hurting. Since top-line wing Pascal Dupuis was lost for months Dec. 23, the Penguins have been short three guys expected to play top-nine roles and two from the minors who have filled in those places because of injuries.

James Neal moved to the top line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, and Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen are anchoring what could be a third line when the team is healthy but is now the second unit. Neal and Kunitz are each trying to state a case for a place on Canada's entry at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and the top line has been dominant. They have a combined eight goals and 20 points in the past three games.

Who's hot: Jets forward Blake Wheeler has eight goals and forward Mark Scheifele has 10 points in the past 12 games. ... Kunitz has three goals and seven points in the past three games; Crosby has two goals and seven points in that span.

Injury report: Jets defensemen Paul Postma (leg) and Grant Clitsome (undisclosed) and forwards Matt Halischuk (arm) and Jim Slater (groin) are out. ... Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin (leg) and defenseman Kris Letang (upper body) have been skating with the team and could return soon. Defenseman Paul Martin (leg) and forward Jayson Menga (lower body) are skating. Forwards Dupuis (knee), Beau Bennett (undisclosed) and Chris Connor (hand) and goaltender Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) are out and not close to returning.

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