Jets set for final meeting with Penguins

- April 3rd, 2014

The Winnipeg Jets will attempt to stay mathematically alive on Thursday as they face the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As has been the case for some time, it remains a stiff uphill climb for the Jets, who trail the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars by seven points with five games left to play, in the battle for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Penguins rallied for a 6-5 win at Consol Energy Center back in early January in the lone meeting this season.

“They’re obviously one of the top teams in the league and have some of the top players in the league,” said Jets winger Blake Wheeler, who leads his team with 27 goals and 64 points in 77 games. “The key for us is to not give them too much time and space. That’s what gives us success, when we play hard and try to limit our opposition’s ability to move the puck up the ice.”

Jets centre Bryan Little is riding a seven-game point streak going into this one, though his primary responsibility will be trying to help limit the effectiveness of Sidney Crosby, who leads the NHL with 100 points.

Jets rookie Jacob Trouba embraces the challenge of lining up opposite guys like Crosby.

“It’s fun. It’s a challenge and it’s something I enjoy,” said Trouba. “I want to play against those guys and show what I can do against them.”

As far as the lineup goes, Paul Maurice will make one change, inserting Anthony Peluso back in on the fourth line for Devin Setoguchi, who will be a healthy scratch for the fourth time in five games.

Since the NHL trade deadline passed, Setoguchi has picked up one assist in 11 games — not exactly the production the Jets had in mind when they decided to hold onto the streaky winger instead of moving him elsewhere to try and recoup something for the second pick in 2014 that they gave up to acquire Setoguchi from the Minnesota Wild.

Ondrej Pavelec will make a third consecutive start since returning from a lower-body injury, while the Pens counter with Marc-Andre Fleury in goal.

Fleury has been excellent this season, going 36-18-4 with a 2.36 GAA and .916 save percentage in 60 games. He’s done a good job to put some of the doubters at rest after last year’s playoff debacle, but Fleury will need to be sharp in the post-season in 2014 if the Penguins hope to advance to the Stanley Cup final.

It’s the first visit by Crosby to a Canadian city since helping his country capture a gold medal in Sochi, so he’ll probably get a warm reception. Not sure if the fans will have a chant in store for him today.

Crosby is always a treat to watch and I’ll also be keeping a close eye on rookie Olli Maata, who is having an outstanding season (nine goals, 29 points in 74 games). Also watch youngster Jayson Megna, a forward that was a college free agent signing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, putting up 13 goals and 31 points in 38 games as a freshman before turning pro last season. He has five goals and nine points in 31 games this season in his first taste of NHL action this season and the Jets were apparently one of the suitors who were in the running to secure his services.

Former Jets forward Tanner Glass is excited to be back in Winnipeg and needed 20-plus tickets for friends and family members.

He’s been enjoying the season, with four goals and 12 points and 83 penalty minutes in 61 games and looking forward to the post-season.

The Jets and Penguins have been involved in several high-scoring affairs during the past few seasons, which is something Pens’ head coach Dan Bylsma hopes is a thing of the past.

“I’m hoping we can do away with those,” said Bylsma, noting he has noticed some differences in how the Jets are playing since Maurice took over. “One of the things we want to be comfortable in (with the playoffs approaching) is being in a 0-0, 1-1, tied hockey game.

“(The Jets) are playing with a lot of speed. We have to be ready. It’s not just going to be a mail-in (effort).”

As for the Jets, there was plenty of talk about finishing the season off strong, playing the right way and continuing to lay the foundation for future success.

“We have five games left and going back to the game in Phoenix (where the Jets won 2-1 in a shootout), the mindset was that we have to finish off strong and establish a base for the future,” said Jets winger Evander Kane.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice talked about the challenge of trying to contain Crosby, a subject colleague Paul Friesen dealt with in the pre-game web story.

Maurice also said all of his injured players are progressing, but didn’t provide much in terms of details (it’s that time of the year), though he did say it looks like Mark Scheifele (knee) and James Wright (ankle) could start skating this week.

Goalie Al Montoya remains sidelined with a lower-body injury, as does D Keaton Ellerby.

Speaking of injuries, Penguins D Paul Martin returns to the lineup today, which likely means that Simon Depres and Deryk Engelland (or Robert Bortuzzo) could be healthy scratches. Evgeni Malkin is out with a foot problem, while D Kris Letang (stroke) and G Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) were on the ice for some work on Thursday morning.

Just a reminder, I’ll be joining Kelly Moore and Jim Toth on the CJOB pre-game show from 6:07 to 7 p.m.

Here’s how we expect both teams to start tonight:

Jets

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Michael Frolik
Dustin Byfuglien-Olli Jokinen-Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane-Eric O’Dell-Matt Halischuk
Eric Tangradi-Jim Slater-Anthony Peluso

Toby Enstrom-Paul Postma
Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy-Zach Redmond

Ondrej Pavelec (Michael Hutchinson)

Penguins

Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Beau Bennett
Brian Gibbons-Jussi Jokinen-James Neal
Lee Stempniak-Brandon Sutter-Jayson Megna
Taylor Pyatt-Craig Adams-Tanner Glass

Brooks Orpik-Paul Martin
Olli Maata-Matt Niskanen
Rob Scuderi-Robert Bortuzzo

Marc-Andre Fleury (Jeff Zatkoff)

Categories: Hockey

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