By Allan Muir
The Pittsburgh Penguins return to the ice tonight in search of their 14th consecutive win, but it’ll be another couple of weeks before the World’s Greatest Team assembles in all its glory.
The Pens will be without Kris Letang for at least another week after the defender broke a bone in his foot against the Canadiens. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury also is nursing an injury suffered against the Habs. Reigning MVP Evgeni Malkin is a game-time decision after missing nine games with an upper body injury. And Jarome Iginla, acquired in the season’s biggest trade early Thursday morning, is out pending resolution of work visa issues. He could play Saturday, but the holiday weekend could push his debut into next week.
But even without that quartet of All-Stars, the Pens are well situated to stretch the NHL’s longest winning streak since 1990. The defense, which has allowed just nine goals over Pittsburgh’s last nine games, could get a boost from the debut of Douglas Murray. The hard-hitting defender, acquired earlier in the week from San Jose, will skate on the second pair with Matt Niskanen and should see some time on the penalty kill.
Brenden Morrow did line rushes with James Neal and Malkin during the morning skate, and worked the second power play unit with Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis ahead of his second game with the Pens.
Tomas Vokoun will get the start in net.
The Jets are firming up their position in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, building a six-point lead over their Southeast Division pursuers after a 4-1 win in Carolina on Tuesday. Evander Kane fired six shots to add to his league-leading total and broke a lengthy slump with a goal and three assists in the contest, and linemates Olli Jokinen and Nik Antropov also tallied. The Jets need this trio to contribute with some consistency to take pressure off Andrew Ladd’s line, so they’re hoping that game sparks their confidence down the stretch.
Winnipeg got top blueliner Tobias Enstrom back in the lineup two games ago, and he tallied in both contests. Partner Dustin Byfuglien has racked up 10 points in his last nine games. They could draw a heavy workload tonight with Ron Hainsey and Mark Stuart expected to miss the contest.
The Jets are playing their best hockey on the road this season, running up a 10-6-2 mark.
Al Montoya, making just his seventh appearance of the season, gets the start for the Jets.