The Pittsburgh Penguins were riding one of their longest win streaks of the season before losing superstar Evgeni Malkin earlier this month.
The Penguins have proved inconsistent during his absence but will try to start another run in his expected return to the lineup Saturday while adding to their home dominance over the depleted Winnipeg Jets.
Pittsburgh (30-21-8) had won four in a row – its second-longest streak this season – until Malkin's lower-body ailment proved too much to bear. The Penguins lost their first game without him, 6-3 in Tampa Bay on Feb. 5, and have gone 5-4-1 without their second-leading scorer following Wednesday's 5-1 loss in Boston.
They have endured a season-worst eight-game drought on the power play and are 1 for 24 in the 10 games Malkin has missed. Pittsburgh converted 31.4 percent of its chances in the 18 games before losing him.
Ten of Malkin's 23 goals and half of his 26 assists have come with the man advantage.
“(Malkin is) a difference maker. He's one of the elite players in the world,” coach Mike Sullivan told the team's official website. “He was playing really well when we lost him. To get him back will make us that much stronger.
“I think it makes us more difficult to play against from a matchup standpoint. There's no doubt he makes us a better team when he's in our lineup.”
The Penguins might also welcome back another center, Nick Bonino, from a hand injury that's kept him out since Jan. 12.
The Jets (26-30-4), meanwhile, are missing two players who are tied for the team lead with 17 goals. Bryan Little was lost for the season last week due to a fractured veterbrae, then former captain Andrew Ladd was traded to Chicago on Thursday along with Matt Fraser and Jay Harrison for Marko Dano and two draft picks.
Just hours after the Ladd news, Winnipeg still managed to end a four-game losing streak with a 6-3 victory in Dallas. After blowing a 3-0 lead, the Jets scored three times in the final 13:02. Mark Scheifele tallied the go-ahead goal en route to a career-high four points, and Joel Armia scored a pair to match his total from his previous 29 NHL games.
“I don't know what the drivers are sometimes in terms of emotion and where you get the energy,” coach Paul Maurice said. “Having something happen like (the Ladd trade) raises, intensity's not the right word, but it's more just emotion in the room. So they played quick and they played fast.”
Winnipeg ended a six-game skid to Pittsburgh with a 1-0 win Dec. 27 as Little scored on a penalty shot, but the Penguins have won 14 straight home meetings – the NHL's second-longest such win streak against any opponent. Pittsburgh has scored 37 goals in the past six.
Malkin has nine goals and 16 assists in his past 10 home games in the series, and Sidney Crosby has 17 points in his last six. The Jets haven't won in Pittsburgh since December 2006 when they were known as the Atlanta Thrashers.
Marc-Andre Fleury is 16-2-0 with a 2.20 goals-against average in his last 18 games against the Jets and has won six straight.
Winnipeg has given up seven goals in its last 23 times short-handed.