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Penguins notebook: Teams adds muscle, calls up Sestito for Jets game

| Wednesday, March 8, 2017, 10:24 a.m.
USA Today Sports
Penguins forward Tom Sestito challenges Jets right wing Chris Thorburn (22) to a fight at the faceoff during the first period Wednesday, March 8, 2017.
Pittsburgh Penguins' Tom Sestito, right, punches Anaheim Ducks' Jared Boll during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif.

WINNIPEG — The Penguins added some muscle for their rematch with the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night, calling up heavyweight Tom Sestito from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.

They also swapped seventh defensemen, sending down Derrick Pouliot and calling up Cameron Gaunce.

The 6-foot-5, 228-pound Sestito's skill set came in handy immediately. Less than four minutes into the game, he fought the Jets' Chris Thorburn. That came 2 seconds after a fight between the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin and the Jets' Blake Wheeler.

Things turned ugly in the team's last meeting Feb. 16 at PPG Paints Arena. Olli Maatta suffered a hand injury on a hit by Adam Lowry, Justin Schultz suffered a concussion on a hit by Dustin Byguglien, and Wheeler was incensed by a high, hard hit he took from Malkin.

Sestito has six goals, 16 points and 121 penalty minutes in 33 AHL games this season.

“Tommy has played extremely well down in Wilkes-Barre for us. He's played a number of games for us this year. He certainly brings a physical element to our team,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He's a guy that we think can help us win.”

Pouliot acquitted himself well in his only action since his most recent call-up, playing effectively in a March 1 game at Chicago. With the acquisitions the Penguins made on defense at the trade deadline, however, he wasn't likely to see much playing time at the NHL level in the near future.

Gaunce has no goals and two assists in six NHL games this season.

Desperate Jets

The road-wary Penguins — 27-4-3 at home but a mere 13-12-5 on the road — take on a Jets club playing desperate hockey with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread.

“I think it'll be a good test for us,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “If you want to win in the playoffs, you've got to find ways to win on the road. So this will be a good challenge as far as the teams we're playing (on this road trip). This time of year is always a little bit tighter, and you're playing desperate teams. Hopefully that gets the best out of us.”

The Penguins are 11-3 all-time against the Jets since they relocated from Atlanta, but 4-3 in Winnipeg at MTS Centre. The Jets are 16-16-1 at home this year but have secured points in seven of their past nine games.

“When we play here, it's usually a pretty physical game,” Crosby said. “I think that's part of the way they like to play, to be physical, especially against us. They really try to reinforce that and play the same way.”

On Wednesday morning, Sullivan described the identity of the 30-31-6 Jets as physical with size, and expects “more of the same” in their second meeting.

“Every game we play is going to present a particular challenge depending on the type of team that we play,” Sullivan said. “We played some teams that bring a physical element and they bring size to part of their game plan, and other teams bring speed and skill. And regardless of who our opponent is, we just have to make sure that we're prepared for that type of game and we understand what our strengths are and we understand how we have to play in order to be successful.”

Murray gets call

Matt Murray, who is 5-2-1 in his past eight games, started for the Penguins.

After being pulled following the first period Sunday night, Murray is looking to rebound from the three goals he allowed on 21 shots against the Sabres.

Tribune-Review staff writer Jonathan Bombulie contributed. Darrin Bauming is a freelance writer.

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