|Jets head coach Claude Noel has his work cut out for him as his team faces the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, March 20, 2012. (Jason Halstead/QMI Agency/Files)
PITTSBURGH - The Penguins are rolling, Sidney Crosby is making his home-ice return and the Winnipeg Jets are lousy on the road, especially in Pittsburgh.
So the visiting team doesn’t stand a chance, tonight, right?
“If you didn’t have a chance we wouldn’t come here,” Jets head coach Claude Noel said, this morning. “You wouldn’t play the game. There’s always a way to win games. We are just as able to win this game as they are.
“We know the challenges. They’re at home, they’ve done very well lately. So bring it on.”
The Jets will ice a lineup that includes two American League callups, in forwards Spencer Machacek and Ben Maxwell.
Machacek played in Winnipeg against Carolina, Sunday, while Maxwell just joined the team, late Monday.
Maxwell has 10 NHL games under his belt this season, split between Winnipeg and Anaheim, who’ve taken turns claiming him off the waiver wire.
Missing from the Jets lineup are Nik Antropov and Eric Fehr, both injured.
The game marks the first time Crosby has played at home since his latest bout with concussion symptoms. In three road games he’s picked up five assists, adding to a team that’s 11-0-1 in its last 12 games.
“I feel really good,” Crosby told reporters after a morning practice. “I’m really happy the way things have gone. No setbacks.
“I just want to start burying some chances.”
He’s done that against Winnipeg/Atlanta over his career, with 13 goals and 35 points in 21 games.
The Jets/Thrashers have lost 10 straight games in Pittsburgh, dating back to 2006, a stat the Jets didn’t necessarily know — or want to hear.
“Don’t tell me,” Blake Wheeler said.
The Jets top line of Wheeler, Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little will try to bounce back from a bad outing against Carolina, Sunday.
“You have to,” Wheeler said. “It was a tough ending for us. It was a tough game for our line, as well. We didn’t play very well. That’s the great thing about this game. Two nights later you get to redeem yourself and we’re excited about the opportunity.”
The Jets’ last trip to Pittsburgh produced one of the season’s low points, an 8-5 loss that Noel saw a bit of in Sunday’s 4-3 setback against Carolina.
“We played an open run-and-gun, and that feeds right into them,” the coach said. “We clearly can’t play that way tonight. We have to be able to check well and respect each other and work hard for each other.”
Again, the playoff implications are enormous, with the Jets needing to turn around their horrendous road record (they visit Washington and Nashville later this week) to keep pace with the Capitals and Buffalo in the NHL East.
“We can’t sit here and worry about what we haven’t done the last 70 games, home and away,” Noel said. “Whether it’s at home, on Mars, it doesn’t matter for us. It’s a game we need to win.”