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Game Preview: Winnipeg Jets @ Pittsburgh Penguins 1/23/2022: Lines, how to watch

The Penguins begin a six-game homestand as the Jets’ second opponent in fewer than 24 hours.

NHL: OCT 08 Jets at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (25-10-5, 55 points, 3rd place Metropolitan Division) @ Winnipeg Jets (17-14-6, 40 points, 6th place Central Division)

When: 1:00 p.m. Eastern

How to Watch: AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh (ATTSN-PT) locally in the Western PA viewing area, TSN3 in the great white North, NHL Network

Opponent Track: The Jets have been on the road since the beginning of January, putting up a 3-2-1 record with games vacillating between a 3-0 shutout win in Detroit and a 7-1 blowout loss in Colorado. Winnipeg will face the Penguins in the second half of a back-to-back; fewer than 24 hours ago, the team blew a first-period lead in a 3-2 regulation loss to the Bruins in Boston.

Pens path ahead: After playing in enemy arenas for seven of the past eight games, the Penguins will now settle in for a six-game homestand against some teams at the very bottom of the NHL standings on Tuesday (when Phil Kessel and the Coyotes come to town) and Thursday (when Jared McCann and the Kraken arrive in Pittsburgh for the first time).

Hidden Penguins stat: The Penguins are undefeated at home since December 11, when they began a six-game winning streak at PPG Paints Arena. Before this stretch, Pittsburgh opened 2021-22 with an underwhelming 5-5-2 home record; now they’re sitting more comfortably at 16th in the NHL with 11 victories at home.

Hidden Jets stat: This is Winnipeg’s fourth set of back-to-back games in 2021-22. Heading into Saturday, their record in consecutive games is 2-3-2; in the second half of a back-to-back, they’re 1-2-1.

Season Series: The Penguins and Jets last met on November 22 in Winnipeg. The Jets were the only team to score in the first period, but goals from Jason Zucker and Danton Heinen carried the Penguins to a 3-1 comeback win.

SBN counterpart blog: Take a peek at Arctic Ice Hockey for all the latest.

Stats

From hockeydb:

—Second-line winger Kyle Connor is leading the Jets in production this season, and it’s not even close; his 40 points give him an 11-point advantage on second-leading Winnipeg producer Pierre-Luc Dubois. The Jets are 15-3-6 when Connor records a point, and 2-11-0 when he’s held off the scoreboard.

Who on earth are the Penguins facing in net?

So far this season, the Jets have leaned on Eric Comrie for the second half of back-to-backs; Winnipeg Free Press reports on why his presence remains uncertain for Sunday in “Jets living in a confusing COVID-19 blur”:

You’ll forgive Brenden Dillon and Eric Comrie if they’ve lost track of what day it is. Or what city they’re in. Because the Winnipeg Jets teammates are in the midst of their own unique, extended road trip, one which began 10 days ago in Detroit and has yet to end thanks to COVID-19.

Dillon was cleared to rejoin the Jets when they battled the Bruins on Saturday, but Comrie, who was symptomatic, continues to wait in COVID-19 limbo.

(Comrie) was finally cleared to resume practicing on Friday.

“I have no idea right now. It’s a day-by-day process getting used to speed, getting used to shots, getting used to the cardio effect. We’ll go from there,” Comrie said of when he might be ready to play.

Connor Hellebuyck will start against Boston, with Mikhail Berdin likely backing him up. Whether Hellebuyck goes back-to-back on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh remains to be seen.

“If it were up to me, I’d say yes,” Comrie said of suiting up this weekend. “I’d like to play as much as I can. It’s not my decision to make, it’s the coach’s decision. He’s going to say when I’m ready. I feel ready whenever he wants to put me in.”

Rookie Mikhail Berdin, who is still waiting to make his NHL debut, served as the Jets’ backup against the Bruins on Saturday. Will the Penguins face Comrie, who hasn't played since December 10, or Hellebuyck, who would be making his second start in fewer than 24 hours?

Saturday Game Lines

FORWARDS

Andrew Copp - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler

Kyle Connor - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cole Perfetti

Paul Stastny - Adam Lowry - Kristian Vesalainen

Jansen Harkins - Dominic Toninato - Austin Poganski

DEFENSEMEN

Josh Morrissey / Dylan DeMelo

Brenden Dillon / Neal Pionk

Dylan Samberg / Nate Schmidt

Possible Starting Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck or Eric Comrie (depending on Comrie’s COVID-19 status), Mikhail Berdin as backup

Scratches: Nathan Beaulieu, Logan Stanley, Evgeny Svechnikov, Kristian Reichel

COVID Protocol: Eric Comrie (After nine Jets were placed in protocol between January 11 and January 13, the virus has mostly receded from Winnipeg)

IR: Nikolaj Ehlers, David Gustafsson, C.J. Suess, Bryan Little

—Blake Wheeler was removed from long-term injured reserve prior to the Jets’ battle with the Bruins on Saturday, where he has been waiting since a collision against the Canucks dealt him a lower-body injury on December 10. Against the Bruins in his Saturday return, Wheeler skated over 21 minutes, including about four and a half on the power play, and registered two shots on goal.

—The hockey gods giveth and they taketh away; Wheeler’s return to the active roster coincided with the placement of Nikolaj Ehlers on long-term IR after a knee-on-knee collision with the now-suspended Dmitry Orlov.

And now for the Pens..

Friday Game Lines

Forwards

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust

Danton Heinen - Evgeni Malkin - Kasperi Kapanen

Dominik Simon - Jeff Carter - Evan Rodrigues

Brian Boyle - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn

Defense

Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang

Marcus Pettersson / John Marino

Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel

Projected Starting Goalie: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith backup)

Scratches: Radim Zohorna

COVID Protocol: none!

IR: Drew O’Connor (week-to-week, lower body injury), Jason Zucker (week-to-week, lower body injury), Louis Domingue

—Radim Zohorna was called up from the Penguins taxi squad on Saturday— could that move be in order to fill the spot of Zach Aston-Reese, who on Friday skated in his first game since January 8? Saturday morning updates: Aston-Reese, who is sidelined with a lower body injury, will be replaced instead by frequent fourth-line candidate Brian Boyle.

—DeSmith was pulled in each of his last two starts; his leash has grown so short that head coach Mike Sullivan yanked him on Friday with the score tied at 2-2. It seems likely that if Domingue was not on injured reserve, it would be him sitting on the bench behind Jarry instead.

—In Mike Mathesons’ last three games, he’s racked up six points (3-3—6). Meanwhile, Kris Letang has 15 (2-13—15) in his last ten; even Brian Dumoulin got in on the action with an impressive snipe on Friday. It’s a good time to shoot from the Penguins blue line. Here’s a fun fact from Penguins PR: Pittsburgh is one of just five NHL teams whose defensemen have racked up over 100 points in 2021-22.

Milestone and streak watch

—Sunday marks Kris Letang’s 900th NHL game, making him the fourth player in Penguins history to skate 900 times with the team. He joins Sidney Crosby (1,067 games played), Evgeni Malkin (946) and Mario Lemieux (915) as the only players to reach the franchise milestone.

—That’s not the only milestone Letang is clearing: by entering today’s game on a career-high production streak, he becomes just the third player in Penguins history to mark points in 10 straight games. Paul Coffey accomplished the streak twice in 1989-90, while Randy Carlyle marked one of his own in 1980-81.

—By marking his fifth game-winning goal of the season against the Blue Jackets on Friday, Mike Matheson is just one game-winner away from tying Matt Niskanen (six game-winning goals, 2013-14) as the defenseman franchise record for deciding tallies in a single season.

—Evgeni Malkin will be fighting Matheson for that next game-winner; one more deciding goal would mark Malkin’s 75th, earning him sole possession of second place on the Penguins’ all-time leaderboard (at No. 1: Jaromir Jagr’s 78 game-winning goals).