Coming off a well-deserved two-day break, the Winnipeg Jets are back in action Monday night as they’re set to welcome captain Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins to Canada Life Centre for the first and only time this season.
Interestingly enough, these two franchises haven’t squared off against one another in over two years, as their most recent bout came on Oct. 13, 2019. Since then, plenty of things have changed for Pittsburgh’s organization, most notably, the fact that their competitive window is nearing an end – one that’s magically lasted for the last 15 seasons.
With both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both in their mid-30s, time is running out for the Penguins to make one final Stanley Cup run before management is forced to reset this current group. Despite their high aspirations, this team has gotten off to a mediocre start, earning a 7-6-4 record through the first 17 games, placing them sixth in the Metropolitan Division.
Since the Jets are only in town for this Monday night matchup, which will see them set off on a three-game road trip afterwards, they’ll be hoping to take advantage of this opponent that’s yet to locate its footing thus far.
Digging deeper into this showdown, let’s explore three interesting storylines ahead of this contest between Winnipeg and Pittsburgh.
Paul Stastny Making Progress Towards Return, Set to Miss Seventh Straight Game
Thanks to a nagging foot injury, veteran Paul Stastny has been sidelined since Nov. 6, unfortunately, he’s expected to remain on the shelf during Monday’s game against the Penguins. Though the 35-year-old is slated to miss a seventh consecutive contest, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for the left-hander as he’s been making some steady progress recently.
Forced to stay at home in Winnipeg during this past road trip, Stastny focused on his recovery process and was seen skating at the rink multiple times while his teammates were playing out west. While he’s not ready to return just yet, the Quebec City native is expected to travel with the team on its upcoming three-game road trip with the hope that he’ll dress in at least one of those contests.
In the meantime, coach Paul Maurice isn’t planning to make any line-up changes ahead of this matchup against Pittsburgh. As a result, the same line combinations from Friday’s defeat, which came at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, are expected to return.
For reference, here’s what they should look like:
Andrew Copp – Mark Scheifele – Nikolaj Ehlers
Kyle Connor – Pierre-Luc Dubois – Blake Wheeler
Jansen Harkins – Adam Lowry – Evgeny Svechnikov
Dominic Toninato – Riley Nash – Kristian Vesalainen
Josh Morrissey – Nate Schmidt
Brenden Dillon – Neal Pionk
Logan Stanley – Dylan DeMelo
The Beginning of a Busy Slate of Hockey
After completing a back-to-back series on the road last week, the Jets are returning for some home cooking Monday, although they won’t be able to relax for too long as their schedule is about to become fairly hectic in the coming days.
Capping off November with a busy stretch of games, this team is scheduled to play five separate times over the next eight days before receiving a three-day break spanning from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. Adding to this difficult slate ahead, three of those five contests will take place on the road, including a back-to-back set against the Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames.
Without question, fighting off exhaustion throughout this upcoming stretch should serve as one of the biggest obstacles that Winnipeg’s skaters have faced thus far. Unless Stastny is cleared to return, the forward group likely won’t receive any fresh legs to sub-in if needed, meaning there could be some very tired bodies during the second half of this upcoming back-to-back set.
But since defenceman Nathan Beaulieu, who’s served as a healthy scratch since Nov. 9, remains available as a potential option, there’s probably a strong chance his name will be called at some point in the next week.
Nikolaj Ehlers Aiming to Remain Red-Hot Against Penguins
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock lately, you’re well aware of this recent offensive surge from Ehlers, who’s been dominating the competition ever since the calendar shifted to November.
Breaking out from his quiet October performance, where he was held scoreless through the first four games and only registered five points overall, the 25-year-old has caught fire as of late and has served as one of Winnipeg’s top scoring threats. In total, he’s posted four goals and eight points through nine games this month, and comes into this Monday affair while riding a five-game point streak.
Most notably, Ehlers’ remarkable scoring ability has been on full display in each of the last three contests, as he’s been finding the back of the net from lasering slapshots and making video-game-style plays with the puck – a truly impressive stretch from the Danish star.
Historically against Pittsburgh, the former first-round selection has generated two goals and five points over 10 career games, which are scoring totals he’ll be looking to increase in this showdown. Considering they’ve shut out each of their last two opponents, however, it could be difficult to create plenty of quality scoring chances against them.
In turn, there’ll likely be a much larger onus on Ehlers and the rest of his teammates to start quick out of the gate, hopefully preventing the Penguins from replicating their past performances.