Penguins-Jets Preview


As much as the Pittsburgh Penguins are feeling Sidney Crosby's absence, Evgeni Malkin is doing an admirable job trying to lessen the impact.

Malkin will try to extend a six-game point streak when the Penguins visit the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.

Crosby, who missed much of last season and nearly two months of this one recovering from a concussion, is having a recurrence of symptoms and has no timetable to return after last playing Dec. 5.

The Penguins (19-11-4) went 5-2-1 after Crosby, who had two goals and 10 assists, made his season debut Nov. 21. They've gone 3-3-0 since he went down, but have won their last two - 8-3 over Buffalo on Saturday and 3-2 Tuesday over league-leading Chicago .

Pittsburgh had a 3-0 lead at the end of two against the Blackhawks, then had to survive an onslaught to get two points after being outshot 19-4 in the final period. James Neal scored his team-high 19th goal while Malkin, who had five points against the Sabres, had three assists against Chicago.

Since Crosby went down, Malkin has six goals and nine assists.

"He is definitely demanding the puck right now," said linemate Chris Kunitz. "He wants to make plays, and he is having success. He is just a dominating player when he wants the puck."

Malkin's point streak is his longest since a 15-game run Jan. 16-March 4, 2010.

Malkin missed Pittsburgh's 2-1 loss to Winnipeg on Oct. 17 with a sore right knee, but the Penguins are 14-3-2 against the Jets franchise when he plays. Malkin has nine goals and 13 assists during an 11-1-0 run against the former Thrashers when he's in the lineup.

Pittsburgh is looking to win three in a row for the first time since a five-game streak Oct. 18-27, but realizes it will have its hands full in Winnipeg, where the Jets are 12-5-1.

"It's going to be a good challenge for our team," Kunitz said. "We know that their fans get into it. .. We've got to play the same as we did in the first two periods against Chicago and apply pressure to them."

Pittsburgh will be without defenseman Deryk Engelland, who was suspended three games for hitting Chicago forward Marcus Kruger in the head during Tuesday's game.

The Penguins should at least be well-rested, while Winnipeg (16-13-5) is playing on back-to-back nights following a 4-0 win over Montreal on Thursday.

Blake Wheeler had two goals and an assist and Ondrej Pavelec recorded 27 saves for his third shutout this season and second this month. Pavelec had lost his previous two games, but is 5-2-1 with a 1.81 goals-against average in December, surrendering two goals or fewer in all but one of his eight starts.

"He looked solid. Like he was really in control," coach Claude Noel said. "It was nice to see him play like that, but he's been playing like that more than just tonight."

Friday's game is the last in a stretch of 11 of 12 games at the MTS Centre, and Winnipeg's 7-2-1 performance at home in that span has it entering the night tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference.

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

"Pittsburgh is going to be rested and ready to go."