Jets-Penguins Preview

The Associated Press

Sidney Crosby's status remains a mystery, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are getting one of their other star centers back.

After missing 15 games with a knee injury, Jordan Staal should provide a boost in his return Saturday as the Penguins host the Winnipeg Jets looking to avoid a fourth loss in five games.

Pittsburgh has perhaps the best top-three center combination in the league, but that depth has taken a big hit with Crosby missing the past two months and Staal sitting out the last 15 games since injuring his left knee Jan. 6.

"I'm feeling really good," Staal, who has 15 goals in 34 games, told the Penguins' official website Friday. "The last couple days it was great just to get a couple practices with the team and kind of get back into the timing and everything. Things are looking up."

Staal led the Eastern Conference with a 22.1 shooting percentage at the time of the injury, but he's also one of the league's premier defensive forwards and penalty killers.

Pittsburgh (30-19-5) is one of the league's five most effective at killing penalties at 87.8 percent, and it's been percentage points above that during Staal's absence, but that hasn't made a difference recently. The Penguins killed off all 11 power plays during a four-game road trip, but come home 1-2-1 after a 3-2 shootout loss to Montreal on Tuesday.

They've denied all seven of Winnipeg's power-play chances in splitting a pair of games in Manitoba, but might be more concerned after what the Jets (26-24-6) did late in the third period at Washington on Thursday.

Down 2-0 but with a 6-on-3 advantage after pulling Ondrej Pavelec, Evander Kane got Winnipeg within one with 2:15 left. Twelve seconds later and with a 5-on-4 edge, Dustin Byfuglien scored to tie it, and the Jets won 3-2 in a shootout.

"We haven't had a lot of luck lately,'' coach Claude Noel said. "So, for us, we'll take that and we'll run with it.''

Winnipeg, which had been 0 for 17 with the man advantage during its past seven games, pulled within three points of the Capitals and Panthers, who share the Southeast Division lead.

"I think we're talking about a team that is in a playoff mindset right now where you need to win to go on, not necessarily just this game. They need to win games to go on," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "That's what we think we're playing (Saturday) - a team that's in playoff mode right now."

Desperate as they may be, the Jets have scored an NHL-low 26 non-shootout goals in 18 games since the calendar turned to 2012.

Getting much past Marc-Andre Fleury, who will start Saturday for the 13th time in 14 games, won't be easy. Fleury is 11-2-0 with a 1.83 goals-against average in his last 13 starts against the Jets franchise, including 7-0 at home.

The Penguins have won 10 of their last 11 in the series when Evgeni Malkin - who missed a 2-1 loss Oct. 17 - has played, and the league's leading scorer has a lot to do with that. Malkin has nine goals and 12 assists, including nine power-play points, during that 11-game stretch.

Staal has five goals and three assists in his last nine against the Jets.

Pavelec is 1-8-0 with a 4.16 GAA versus Pittsburgh.