March 28, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Winnipeg Jets right wing Blake Wheeler (26) is tripped by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Simon Despres (47) during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Jets In Tough Against East-Leading Pittsburgh Penguins: Preview

The Winnipeg Jets (19-20-5) knew that 2014 would be tough, with three well-rounded Eastern Conference teams to open up the new year. The Pittsburgh Penguins (30-12-1) have a banged-up roster, but are still sport one of the most explosive lineups in the NHL.

The Jets are still searching for their first win in 2014, after the first two attempts on a three-game Eastern road trip left them fruitless. Winnipeg was in Boston on Saturday, and came out on the wrong side of a 4-1 final score. The Penguins have had no such trouble, winning eight of their last 10 games, including their most recent showing, a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers. Sunday’s meeting will me the first of two this season, with the other match-up coming on April 3rd. The Penguins have had Winnipeg’s number historically, with a 5-2 record all-time.

Al Montoya, will be in goal for the Jets, one day after Winnipeg starter Ondrej Pavelec allowed four goals in the Jets’ loss to Boston. Montoya has appeared in 14 games this season, averaging a .929% save percentage, coupled with a 2.02 GAA. Marc-Andre Fleury will be the Penguins’ starter, in what will likely be his final game before being named one of Team Canada’s goaltenders for the Olympics. Fleury has put up a 2.15 GAA with a .921% save percentage, and leads the league in wins, with 23 in 35 games.

The Penguins’ Injured Reserve has been stocked full for over two weeks, but Pittsburgh could get Evgeni Malkin (leg) and Kris Letang (elbow) back in time for the game. The Penguins will still be missing Chris Conner, who underwent hand surgery on Saturday, Pascal Dupuis, who is likely out for the year with a torn ACL, Jayson Megna (lower-body), Andrew Ebbett (ankle), Paul Martin (broken leg), Beau Bennett (wrist), and Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), who has not played this season. The Jets have a healthy active roster, but are still missing Jim Slater (hernia), Matt Halischuk (broken arm), Paul Postma (blood clot), and Grant Clitsome (illness). All four did not travel with the Jets on their three-game road trip that ends Sunday.

Dustin Byfuglien has scored two goals in his last two games, and will be an integral part of the Jets’ power-play, something that has to show up on Sunday if they want a fighting chance for a win. The Jets will have to play better defensively, taking lessons learned from weak net-front coverage against the Bruins, and applying it to the Eastern Conference’s highest-scoring team. Byfuglien, who leads NHL defencemen in points, was not included on Team USA’s roster for the upcoming Olympics, while both Martin and Brooks Orpik of the Penguins made the team.

The Penguins will need more of the same, which in a nutshell, is Sidney Crosby. Crosby recorded 3 points against the Rangers on Friday, extending his NHL-leading point total to 62 halfway through the season. The Pens are still searching for a suitable candidate to man the wing with Crosby and Chris Kunitz, after Dupuis went down with a season-ending injury.

Pittsburgh has lost only three times at home all season, with an 18-3 record. The Jets, meanwhile, are below .500% on the road, at 9-12-1. Pittsburgh is 7-2-0 against Western Conference opponents this season, while Winnipeg is 11-6-1 against the East.

The Jets play for the second time in 24 hours, with another 12 noon Central time game. You can watch the game on TSN Jets, or listen live on TSN 1290 radio. Non-regional viewers can see the game on Root Sports.


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Tags: Pittsburgh Penguins Winnipeg Jets

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