Jack Hughes returned to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon.
So did the team’s high-scoring ways.
Hughes and the Devils will look to complete a sweep of a weekend back-to-back on Sunday night when they host the Winnipeg Jets in Newark, N.J., in the first game of the season between the teams.
Hughes, playing for the first time since Feb. 6, collected a pair of assists Saturday as the Devils beat the host Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2.
The Jets haven’t played since Thursday, when they began a four-game Eastern Conference trip by falling to the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1.
The presence of Hughes — who missed the previous four games with an upper-body injury — provided an immediate boost to the Devils. New Jersey scored three goals or less in every game while going 2-2-0 without its All-Star center, who leads the team with 35 goals and 69 points.
With Hughes back in the lineup, coach Lindy Ruff rolled with the Devils’ top three lines. Hughes’ line combined for five points while the first line accounted for seven points and three goals, including two by Nico Hischier. The fourth line of Miles Wood, Michael McLeod and Jesper Boqvist combined to play under 19 minutes.
“With Jack coming back in, the lines would change,” Ruff said. “I liked what the lines did. I got to a certain point where I just decided to play three lines, try to get in a real good rhythm. And I think the lines fed off of that. That’s as good as I’ve seen probably five or six individuals play.”
The Jets, whose 143 goals allowed are the second-fewest in the NHL, are built on their defense. But Winnipeg will take the ice Sunday looking for the finishing touch it has lacked for almost two months.
The Jets have three goals or less in 13 of their past 23 games after registering at least four goals 16 times in their first 32 games. Winnipeg has 12 goals in its past five games, a span in which it has generated 185 shots — including 38 against Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo.
The Jets generated early momentum by outshooting the Blue Jackets 12-2 in the first period and taking a 1-0 lead when Kyle Connor scored a power-play goal with two seconds remaining. But Winnipeg was scoreless on its final six power-play opportunities.
“You get that many power plays to score and don’t — regardless of the opponent, that’s on us,” Jets coach Rick Bowness said.
The empty power plays over the final two periods continued a recent trend for the Jets, who are 2-of-22 on the man advantage over the past five games.
“When you’re on the power play, you always want to score, or at least get momentum,” Jets left winger Nikolaj Ehlers said. “We got one, but it wasn’t enough, We didn’t hit the net enough. We didn’t make it hard on their goalie.”
–Field Level Media