Jets-Penguins Preview

While the Pittsburgh Penguins wait for Evgeni Malkin to return,

they’re certainly loading up on reinforcements elsewhere.

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.”