It might be understandable if the Winnipeg Jets are sagging a bit, but that’s not good timing going into a game Sunday against the red-hot Penguins in Pittsburgh.
The Jets are opening 2022 with eight straight road games because of COVID-19 issues, Sunday marking the end of that string.
The afternoon game in Pittsburgh starts just 22 hours after the puck dropped for Saturday’s 3-2 loss in Boston that left the Jets 3-3-1 in the road stretch. They won three of four to start, but now have dropped three in a row, 0-2-1.
“Just a really long road trip,” said Winnipeg defenseman Brenden Dillon, who had to sit out two games because of asymptomatic COVID-19 before returning Saturday.
The Jets also got captain Blake Wheeler back Saturday from a knee injury that had kept him out since Dec. 10.
Winnipeg interim coach Dave Lowry said he was “not going to divulge” his starting goalie for Sunday, but if it’s Connor Hellebuyck, it would be his 11th straight start.
If fatigue is an issue for Winnipeg, it could be debilitating against a surging opponent.
The Penguins, who are opening a six-game homestand, have won four straight and 15 of their past 17. They are making a push toward the top of not only the Metropolitan Division but also the overall league standings.
And that’s with several games, or stretches within games, that Pittsburgh felt it got away from the style of play that is its keystone.
“We’ve shown an ability to play the game a certain way that gives us the best chance to win,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said.
Top of their game or not, with the winning comes several hot streaks for Pittsburgh.
Among them, defenseman Kris Letang, who will be playing his 900th game Sunday, has a career-long 10-game point streak. That, according to the NHL, makes Letang one of just five defensemen 34 or order in league history with a point streak that long.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who had a hat trick plus an assist Friday in a 5-2 win at Columbus, is four goals shy of 500 for his career. The center has a four-game point streak, as does linemate and team leading scorer Jake Guentzel.
Crosby, who missed the start of the season after wrist surgery and also missed time because of COVID-19, seems to have finally reached his standard atmospheric level of play. He has 10 goals in 28 games, with five coming in the past three games after admittedly some frustration.
“I think you understand that you keep getting chances and looks, and you’ve got to trust that it will go in,” Crosby said. “Easier said than done sometimes, but I think, for the most part, I just tried to play the right way, play through it, take whatever play was there.”
Crosby’s teammates have continued to see high value in his play whether he’s scoring or not.
“You can see the building confidence for him,” Pittsburgh defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. “He’s creating a lot of offensive zone time, wearing teams down. … And even before that, when pucks weren’t going in, he was driving the play for us. It’s good to see him get rewarded.”
–Field Level Media