Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (7-6-4, 18 points, 7th place Metropolitan division) @ Winnipeg Jets (9-4-4, 22 points, 2nd place Central division)
When: 8:30 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet locally in Pittsburgh, Sportsnet for the away broadcast, ESPN+
Opponent Track: Winnipeg was inactive all weekend, kinda rare and weird. They lost their last game 3-2 at Vancouver on Friday night, to make for a two game losing streak having lost Thursday 2-1 (shootout) in Edmonton. The Jets have been a team of streaks in November — before this 0-1-1 stretch they won all of their previous three games. Prior to that they lost two games in a row. Before that they won two more successive games.
Pens path ahead: The Canadian road trip is over after tonight, but Canadian teams aren’t finished for the Pens when Vancouver comes to the ‘Burgh on Wednesday. Then on Friday, the Pens get a look at the Islanders’ brand new arena. Following that it’s back to Canadian teams: Pittsburgh will return home quickly to host Montreal on Saturday before departing next week on their Western Canada road trip that will see them play in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver through December 4th.
Season Series: Winnipeg is scheduled to make their annual trip to Pittsburgh on Sunday January 23rd to conclude the two game cross-conference season series.
Random fact: Tristan Jarry enters the night with a 151:06 shutout streak. The longest current streak in the NHL in 2021-22 is Jonathan Quick’s 154:39 (November 8-17). So if Jarry plays and keeps his sheet clean a few minutes into the game he will set the season high mark around the league. (h/t Pens PR).
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Arctic Ice Hockey for all the Jets news you out there.
—Team health and consistency, for starters. 12 Jets players have appeared in all 17 games so far this season. With a couple exceptions, it’s been the team’s core and best players too.
—Goaltending has been consistent from starter to backup and very solid this season for Winnipeg.
—Kyle Connor is among the league’s goal leaders and shooting the puck has been an emphasis. Connor has 42 SOG in nine November games, which ranks third this month in shots behind Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin. Connor doesn’t get a lot of league-wide press but has become one of the league’s most dangerous goal scorers in the game. The 24 year old already has three 30+ goal seasons in the NHL, and almost surely would have had a fourth last season (26G in 55 games) if it was not a shortened season. This season he’s on pace for 58 goals so far, which even if he tails off a bit is still in line for another really tremendous offensive season.
—Andrew Copp has 0G+7A in nine November games and really found a groove as a secondary scorer this season.
—Blake Wheeler is still seeking his first goal of the 2021-22 season, which is pretty surprising. Also for a player with darn near a point per game (692 points in 760 games) with Winnipeg, he’s well under that level of production this season in a pretty big drop-off from the last decade with the Jets’ franchise.
—Adam Lowry has never really been known for his offense, but only has 1G+1A in the nine games of November.
—After starting the season with 0G+8A in just the first seven games, the offense has dried up a bit for defenseman Neal Pionk, who has 2G+0A in his last 10 games.
Thursday Game Lines
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
Brendon Dillon / Neal Pionk
Logan Stanley / Dylan DeMelo
Possible Starting Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck (Eric Comrie backup)
Scratches: Nathan Beaulieu
IR: Bryan Little (LTIR)
—Smart cap management (and the ability to LTIR Little, who hasn’t played since November 2019 and has a nasty sounding eardum/vertigo condition that’s making playing hockey again look like a longshot) allowed the Jets to pick up Schmidt and Dillon for basically peanuts on the trade market from cap-strapped teams. This plugged in two capable top-four defenders to a team that really needed quality depth on the blueline.
And now for the Pens..
Saturday Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Jeff Carter - Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Danton Heinen - Evan Rodrigues - Dominik Simon
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Possible Starting Goalie: Tristan Jarry
Scratches: Sam Lafferty, Mark Friedman, Brian Boyle
IR: Evgeni Malkin (knee)
—The Pens got a well-deserved off day yesterday as they traveled from Toronto.
Good lookin’ goal rates
The Pens’ process this season has tracked really well on expected goals for and against. That’s continued with strong play over the last week.
I noticed something curious about the three best 5v5 offences in the league: they're all very different.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) November 22, 2021
Toronto, Florida, Carolina, all around 3 xG per 5v5 hour so far this season. pic.twitter.com/KRqAdm1jnm
Penguins offence is different from any of those top three again, too. Centre-point shots instead of the corner points, a lot of low slot but little high slot and almost no net-front. It's weird man. pic.twitter.com/kAdhzpvLkM— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) November 22, 2021
Owning the slot and activating the defense with low-to-high passes has been a tenet of the Pens’ attack. It’s very interesting to see the visual representation of the trend to not shoot as much from the left or right point but instead make an effort to shoot from the middle of the rink.
Sid flies high against Jets
Crosby has destroyed the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise over his career. From the Pens PR:
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has consistently produced throughout his career against the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise. In 38 games, Crosby has recorded 18 goals, 39 assists and 57 points. Crosby has points in four straight games against Winnipeg (2G-3A) and has only been held off the scoresheet nine times in 38 games. Of those 38 games, 19 of them has been multi-point efforts (50%).
Crosby’s 1.50 points-per-game average against the Jets is his second highest versus any one team:
Team GP G A PTS PTS/GM
NY Islanders 75 39 83 122 1.63
Winnipeg 38 18 39 57 1.50
Philadelphia 77 49 66 115 1.49
Buffalo 51 24 50 74 1.45
Calgary 16 13 10 23 1.44
So far the captain has been mostly quiet this season, but if you think of the last few games as basically his preseason, it might make more sense to contextualize how he is working himself into game speed and timing and fitness while the rest of the players are already there. It’s been an adjustment but one that he should continue to improve upon as he ramps back into the flow of the game.