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
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
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
Staal has five goals and three assists in his last nine against
Pavelec is 1-8-0 with a 4.16 GAA versus Pittsburgh.