After pulling off their third trade of the week - this one a stunning blockbuster to land Calgary captain Jarome Iginla - the Penguins will try to extend the second-longest winning streak in team history to 14 games on Thursday night against the visiting Winnipeg Jets.
Malkin’s absence from Pittsburgh’s last nine games with an upper-body injury hasn’t slowed the Penguins, who have had the look of a defensive juggernaut since the league’s reigning MVP left the lineup. Pittsburgh (26-8-0) has allowed nine goals total in those nine victories, the latest a 1-0 win over Montreal on Tuesday as Sidney Crosby’s tally was the difference.
“I think everyone has bought into what we’re doing here,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “Even our high-profile production guys like Sid. They’re putting team goals way ahead of individual goals. We all realized what our ultimate goal here is.”
If that goal wasn’t already spelled out with the Penguins reeling off the NHL’s longest winning streak since New Jersey’s 13-game run in 2001, it’s become crystal clear with the moves of the past five days. General manager Ray Shero kicked off his shopping spree Sunday by acquiring Stars captain Brenden Morrow grabbed hulking defenseman Douglas Murray from San Jose on Monday, then landed the biggest fish of all early Thursday morning by getting Iginla from Calgary.
“We’re all in. We want to win,” Shero told the team’s official website after the deal was made. “The team on paper doesn’t mean too much. We have to do it on the ice.”
Hours earlier, the 525-goal scorer was reported to have been dealt to Boston, but instead he’s heading to Pittsburgh - a destination he apparently preferred when general manager Jay Feaster presented him with three options.
It’s highly unlikely Iginla will be on the ice Thursday, meaning Saturday’s visit from the Islanders is his likely Penguins debut.
Morrow debuted Tuesday on the Penguins’ second line with Dustin Jeffrey and James Neal but could have a new center as soon as Malkin is back. When that will be isn’t completely clear, though Malkin has been working out for over a week and was considered a possibility to play Tuesday until shortly before faceoff.
Defenseman Kris Letang won’t be back for seven to 10 days after breaking his toe against the Canadiens in what was his first game back after a three-game absence. But Murray should don a Penguins sweater for the first time against the Southeast Division-leading Jets (18-14-2).
Crosby is hoping he’ll fit right in with a unit that’s been lights-out since a six-game stretch from Feb. 26-March 9 in which it gave up 27 goals.
“There are times we haven’t played our best, but our focus has been strong defensively,” said Crosby, who leads the NHL with 54 points.
In the process, the Penguins have become comfortable playing the kind of tight-checking, playoff-style hockey that portends a very promising spring. The Canadiens outshot Pittsburgh 37-25 on Tuesday night and spent long stretches in the offensive zone.
Yet Marc-Andre Fleury was spectacular while stopping 22 shots and Tomas Vokoun proved every bit Fleury’s equal when forced into spot duty in the third period after Fleury left with an undisclosed injury. Fleury was being evaluated Wednesday and his status for Thursday is uncertain, though coach Dan Bylsma said Vokoun will start.
Though Pittsburgh insists it’s not focused on making a run at the NHL-record 17-game winning streak put together by the 1992-93 Penguins, with some very winnable games on the horizon, it looks like it has a chance.
“We’re all aware of where we’re at,” Orpik said. “We aren’t trying to put anything to it, to be honest. We’re just trying to play the right way.”
The Jets handed Pittsburgh one of its eight losses with a 4-2 home win Jan. 25 before the Penguins came away with a 3-1 victory in another matchup in Winnipeg on Feb. 15.
Winnipeg, though, is 0-9-2 in its last 11 visits to Pittsburgh, and the Penguins have scored eight, eight and six goals in the last three meetings on their own ice.
The Jets come to town looking for a third straight win after posting a 4-1 victory at Carolina on Tuesday to open a stretch of five of six games on the road, where they’re 10-6-2.
“I’d like to be able to say we can build on it and go. We’ll see,” coach Claude Noel said. “We’re going into Pittsburgh. They’re a formidable opponent. … We’ve still got to get points. We’ve got to win games.
“We’ve got a tough opponent coming Thursday so we’ll try to deal with that.”