Who: Winnipeg Jets (1-2-0) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (1-1-0)
When: 7:00 p.m.
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, TSN-3 north of the border
Opponent Track: This will be the last stop for Winnipeg on a four-game eastern road trip to start the season for the Jets, playing the three NYC area teams before now coming to Pittsburgh. The Jets lost 6-4 on opening night Thursday to the Rangers, roared back for a 5-4 shootout comeback win against the Devils on Friday, and then lost 4-1 on Sunday to the Islanders.
Pens path ahead: Today a stretch of four games in six days begins for the Penguins. (WIN, ANA, @MIN, @WPG).
Season Series: So yeah, that means we’ll see the Jets tonight and then again on Sunday up in Winnipeg, and then the two won’t meet again in the 2019-20 season.
Recent history: The Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise has long been one the Penguins have just totally feasted on over the years. Pittsburgh went 2-0 last year against the Jets, and overall are 13-3 against them since they’ve relocated north in 2011 to become the Jets 2.0. The Penguins went 33-8-3 all-time against this franchise when located in Atlanta (1999-2011) to give super-impressive a 46-11-3 record overall. Per the Pens, the last time Pittsburgh has lost to Winnipeg/Atlanta at home is December 27, 2006.
SBN Team Counterpart: Please check in with our friends at Arctic Ice Hockey see from the game from the Winnipeg perspective.
Tale of the Tape
Player Stats at a Glance
—The high-end players have all shown up early with Ehlers, Wheeler, Scheifele, and Laine already at the top of the heap in the team for scoring through three games.
—Pionk looked great in the game against New Jersey, and the main trade return from the Jacob Trouba trade has averaged 24:42 TOI per game so far on the young season. If he can keep all that up, that trade doesn’t look nearly as bad as first blush.
—Josh Morrissey looks like he’ll be back tonight The talented defensemen found a way to get hurt during warmup of Sunday’s game, causing him to miss the game unexpectedly as a late scratch. He was able to practice Monday, and in a normal jersey and coach Paul Maurice called Sunday’s absence “precautionary.”
UPDATE - Morrissey is out tonight
Pretty clear that Josh Morrissey is dealing with concussion symptoms after colliding with a teammate in pre-game warmup Sunday. Couldn't go that night, felt better next morning, practised and then didn't feel great again. Out Tuesday at Penguins. #NHLJets— Ted Wyman (@Ted_Wyman) October 8, 2019
Possible Lines (based on Monday practice)
Patrik Laine - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler
Kyle Connor - Andrew Copp - Nikolaj Ehlers
Gabriel Bourque - Adam Lowry - Mark Letestu
Mathieu Perreault - Jack Roslovic - Mason Appleton
Carl Dahlstrom / Sami Niku
Ville Heinola / Neal Poink
Anthony Bitetto / Tucker Poolman
Expected scratches: Dmitry Kulikov (personal), Josh Morrissey (head), David Gustafsson (injury)
Injured reserve: Bryan Little, Nathan Beaulieu
Suspended: Dustin Byfuglien
—Kulikov is away from the team attending to a personal matter and won’t play tonight. The team has recalled the 22-year-old Niku (who played 30 games with Winnipeg last season) to take his place. That might be a blessing in disguise for the team, as the young Finn is a very talented player.
—Hey, Mark Letestu is still in the league! The 34-year-old is now on his fifth team, starting his first season in Winnipeg. It’s been since the start of the 2011-12 season since he was with Pittsburgh, if you can believe it or not.
—Great opportunity for the 25-year-old Copp to show what he can do playing with two elite wingers. Kinda surprised this spot hasn’t gone yet to the younger and arguably more talented Roslovic. When Little (who still is in a no contact jersey) returns, that obviously will be a boost there for them down the middle.
—Winnipeg’s 2019 first round pick (20th overall) Ville Heinola might be the pleasant surprise of the start of their season. I remember from doing draft prep work that the 18-year-old Finn was a very polarizing player, some scouts really favored him and others had little time for him. Looks like so far he’s proving that there’s a lot to be sweet about making the NHL right away and playing a pretty big role on a surprisingly depleted Jets’ blueline.
Defensive struggles in the ‘Peg
Arctic Ice Hockey was pretty blunt about their team’s defense following the 4-1 loss to NYI on Sunday:
This defence, with or without Morrissey, is unwatchable.
You know it. I know it. The team definitely knows it. Winnipeg may have the absolute worst defensive unit in the NHL. The absence of Morrissey tonight (due to injury) only compounded matters for an over-matched blueline corps. The Isles feasted on depth defenders like Pionk, Bitetto, and Dalhstrom. This isn’t a surprise to anyone, but the Jets desperately need backend help from somewhere. Life without Dustin Byfuglien was already difficult enough, but losing Morrissey only makes the struggle that much more pronounced. At least Ville Heinola is an absolute beast. I don’t know if I’d actually want to watch the blueline without him.
A big key for the Pens is going to be to try and take advantage of the Bitetto/Poolman pair. But, of course, unfortunately the Pittsburgh strength at forward on the 3rd/4th lines isn’t looking so hot these days either thanks to injuries, so who knows if they’ll be able to do that.
And now for the Pens..
Check the game notes, eh bud?
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Dominik Simon
Alex Galchenyuk - Jared McCann - Brandon Tanev
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Patric Hornqvist
Dominik Kahun - Andrew Agozzino - Sam Lafferty
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / Justin Schultz
Jack Johnson/ Erik Gudbranson
Expected scratches: John Marino (healthy) Chad Ruhwedel (healthy), Juuso Riikola (healthy)
Injured: Bryan Rust (broken hand, LTIR), Evgeni Malkin (lower body injury, IR) Nick Bjugstad (lower body injury, IR)
—Exciting times for Lafferty, the Pens’ fourth round pick in 2014. Lafferty should make his NHL debut tonight and become only the fourth player drafted by Jim Rutherford in Pittsburgh to suit up in the NHL. (*Can you name the other three? Answer below)
—We had Lafferty as the 12th best young player in the organization this summer, because he really did progress a lot throughout last season in the AHL. It remains to be seen what his NHL ceiling could be, but he has the skills to potentially do OK as a lower-line, energy guy with speed that doesn’t have all bad hands.
—Agozzino will also make his Penguins NHL debut. His signing went under the radar, but the Pens obviously like him a lot to make him an early call-up, enhanced also by the fact that they needed a center as well. Agozzino, 28, played well last year scoring 60 points (26g+34a) in 56 games for AHL Colorado Eagles. He also appeared in 11 NHL games, recording two points (1g+1a) which, hey, is at least something.
—The Hockey News’ scouting report on Agozzino cites his strengths as, “proven capable of being a quality playmaker, point producer and leader at lower levels. Works very hard on his game to make a difference”. But lists weaknesses of “Does not have enough size and strength to play an important scoring role at the NHL level, so he needs to round out his game and add bulk”. Agozzino is officially listed by the team at 5’10 and 187 pounds but likely a bit less on each account.
—Encouraging to see McCann and Blueger score last game. Their contributions moving forward with Malkin and Bjugstad on the shelf are going to be critical.
—Murray off of a great start this year, averaging seeing 35.5 shots per game though. Would be nice to get that down a bit, but the Pens have been facing some volume shooting teams just looking to pile up shots.
Key to the game, as told by a quote from The Wire
(The Wire is a great show and my favorite show, so I’m going to see how long into the season I can use a quote that ties to the preview of a game)
“But the game is out there, and it’s either play or get played” — Omar Little
There’s no Evgeni Malkin tonight in the lineup for the Pens. No Nick Bjugstad. But life goes on and if you don’t play the game, the game will play you as everyone’s favorite shotgun-toting, drug dealer robbing outlaw knows.
So the Pens must go on. With injuries come opportunities. McCann was great on Saturday night, and Pittsburgh needs him to be a big time player now for sure. Teddy Blueger’s role probably goes up a notch now too. These young players obviously can’t replace the talent level of an Evgeni Malkin, but they can go out and compete and both have shown they’re capable in the NHL.
Winnipeg won’t feel sorry for the Penguins and with Byfuglien, Little and Kulikov all out and Morrissey maybe less than 100% they shouldn’t feel sorry for Pittsburgh.
The game still goes on, and two points for the standings are still at stake when the puck drops.
(Trivia answer: Dominik Simon, Daniel Sprong and Kasperi Kapanen are the three players Rutherford has drafted as Pens’ GM that have played NHL games to this point. Lafferty will make four tonight).