The Winnipeg Jets will try to salvage the second half of an extended road trip as they visit the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. Winnipeg is on the second night of a road back-to-back and has lost its last three games while Pittsburgh has won four games in a row and has lost only twice since December 1.
Thanks to a few COVID postponements and the NHL’s holiday break, the Jets’ last eight games have been away from home. The first half of that “trip” was fine while the second half has been a struggle. Winnipeg’s most-recent loss was a tough 3-2 defeat to the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon. The Jets scored twice in the first period but didn’t give Connor Hellebuyck much help after the opening 20 minutes.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has been cruising since a so-so start when a lot of key players were sidelined with injuries. The Penguins are coming off an impressive back-to-back sweep with wins over the Ottawa Senators (6-4) and Columbus Blue Jackets (5-2) on Thursday and Friday. Tristan Jarry started both games in net and played well but the big story was Pittsburgh’s offense, which has been unstoppable.
Game: Winnipeg Jets (17-14-6; 40 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (25-10-5; 55 points)
Location: PPG Paints Arena
Day/Time: Sunday, January 23, 1 p.m. ET
Television: NHL Network
Winnipeg Jets at Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh’s Depth Is Ridiculous
Because Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin began the season on injured reserve, the Penguins needed less-prominent names — like Evan Rodrigues, Kasperi Kapanen, and Jeff Carter — to step up to help shoulder the scoring load. They kept the Penguins afloat and have continued to produce even with Crosby and Malkin back in the fold.
As a result, Pittsburgh is eighth in the NHL in goals per game despite a subpar power play. The Penguins barrage their opponents with shots — fourth-most in the league — so their roughly average shooting percentage still provides them with more-than-enough scoring. Plus, with Crosby and Malkin healthy (and both scoring at a point-per-game clip or better), Pittsburgh’s opponents have even more weapons to worry about.
While the Penguins’ depth is mostly confined to their group of skaters, their heavy reliance on No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry isn’t an issue because Jarry has been so good this season. After a rough 2021 postseason, Jarry has been one of the best goalies in hockey so far. He has a 2.10 goals against average (third-best in the NHL) and .928 save percentage (tied for second-best). He is officially one of the league’s elite goaltenders and he should get the start on Sunday.
Hellebuyck Needs To Step Up
It’s never easy for a team to play well in the second game of a road back-to-back but that’s what the Jets will have to do in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Winnipeg has a quick turnaround from a loss in Boston on Saturday and probably will turn to Hellebuyck once again as he has started all of the Jets’ games since December 10 and is as much of a workhorse in net as there is in the NHL.
But, his numbers haven’t been as good as usual this season — 2.83 goals-against average and .912 save percentage — which might be due to him playing so many minutes behind a team that doesn’t give him a ton of help. Winnipeg scores just 2.84 goals per game and is just middle-of-the-pack on the power play and in shot generation.
The Jets really struggle on the penalty kill too, as Winnipeg’s penalty kill is the second-worst in the league. That’s not great for a team that struggles to generate offense outside of the first and second line as much as the Jets do.
Penguins Have Been Winning Big
If you’re betting online, you should take Pittsburgh on the puckline. The Penguins haven’t just been winning games lately; they’ve been dominating teams. Mike Sullivan’s team is 8-2 in its last 10 games and seven of those eight wins have been by multiple goals. Considering that there isn’t much value on the Penguins straight-up, taking the puckline is the way to go if you want a likely hit which actually provides some juice.
You could also take Pittsburgh to win in regulation (-150) as an option if you aren’t convinced that the Penguins will cover the puckline.