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What is wrong with Patrik Laine?

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It’s safe to say that Patrik Laine hasn’t gotten off to the start he would have hope for.

He dropped 15 pounds off his burly frame over the summer in an effort to get a better jump off the starting line. He complained about his slow start in 2017-18 and wanted to rectify that.

He looked trim, was faster and appeared more agile in training camp — primed for a run at a 50-goal season after finishing runner-up to Alex Ovechkin last season with 44.

Now 11 games into Winnipeg’s season, questions about if he can reach that milestone have been replaced with why can’t he manage to score.

Laine’s three goals aren’t exactly conducive to hitting the half-century mark. All three of those goals have come on the power play — Laine’s bread and butter — where four of his five points have originated.

Laine’s undoubtedly lethal on the power play, that’s not in question. Tee him up near the arch of the left circle and the course of magic begins to flow.

It’s five-on-five hockey where worry has crept it. One assist in 11 games and 25 shots and no goals has elevated a certain level of panic in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg’s superstar is neither ‘super’ nor a ‘star’ on the scoresheet thus far, and that’s a problem in a hockey-mad prairie town.

Let’s looks at some of the issues:

LINE SHUFFLING

In Laine’s two years with the Jets, finding his place in the lineup has proved somewhat difficult. While his place on the power play is a lock, his lot in life in five-on-five situations has been anything but.

Laine has played with everyone from Mark Scheifele on the team’s top line to Jack Roslovic and Brendan Lemieux on the team’s fourth this season.

Chemistry between Laine and any two Jets who play with him has been difficult to come by. He found the best iteration of it with the now-departed Paul Stastny and Nikolaj Ehlers.

That trio seemed to click when Stastny arrived at the trade deadline in February and stuck together until the Jets were bounced from the playoffs in the Western Conference Final. Laine enjoyed his best window of production with Stastny, but that’s neither here nor there this season.

This year, Laine has played with nearly every forward the Jets have iced on a given night.

• Laine w/ Little, Ehlers – 48.51 CF%, 11 HDCF, 11 HDCA
• Laine w/ Little, Perreault – 62.07 CF%, 6 HDCF, 4 HDCA
• Laine w/ Scheifele, Wheeler – 42.42 CF%, 2 HDCF, 7 HDCA
• Laine w/ Lowry, Tanev – 40.00 CF%, 1 HDCF, 2 HDCA
• Laine w/ Roslovic, Lemieux – 12.50 CF %, 0 HDCF, 1 HDCA

Laine’s played the majority of his minutes this season with Little and Ehlers as the Jets have continued to force them to work together. There’s always been hope the line would eventually work out, but it just hasn’t.

Laine’s best time on the ice 5v5 has been with Little and Perreault, two guys willing to do a lot of the grunt work in all three zones. Given that we’re 11 games into the season, the sample sizes are small, but there’s some promise shown with Little and Perreault.

Perreault is a well-known commodity when it comes to boosting the performance of those around him and Jets coach Paul Maurice has gone to that well already this year trying to get Laine that spark.

It’s a line worth continued exploration. More possession leads to more scoring and Little and Perreault are good at creating it that environment.

“HOCKEY IS REALLY HARD RIGHT NOW”

Laine’s been here before.

Two times last season — the one where he ended up with 44 goals and leading the league in power-play markers — Laine bemoaned a lack of self-confidence.

Both times, Laine bounced back and went on considerable point runs, including a five-game goal scoring streak after his first declaration.

He has yet to put his own game on blast this season.

One thing Laine hasn’t done is sulk about where he’s been playing, either. He didn’t complain about his fourth-line demotion on Saturday and seems to understand the situation he has found himself in to start the year.

“Obviously, everybody knows that I’m not playing well right now,” Laine told the Winnipeg Sun. “That’s the big reason. I started on the fourth line today, I think that was just the result of the way I’ve been playing. Just got to work hard and be able to play the level I used to play and just try to earn those minutes back.”

OVERREACTION?

When Laine (or anyone with bona fide superstar status) isn’t scoring for a period of a time, questions immediately get raised. Words are spilled on to pages, projected over telephone lines and through microphones.

Fans want to know why. They want insight. And, of course, they want a quick resolution.

At this time last year, Laine had five goals and seven points. Two more goals, on more point. He had a couple of lulls last season and still put up 44 goals.

In a couple of weeks’ time, this could all be much ado about nothing.

GOING FORWARD

Laine is forever linked with Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews. The latter’s quick start has easily outshone the formers, and in Winnipeg, where Maple Leaf hatred runs high and comparisons abound given their one-two status in the 2016 NHL Draft, that’s cause for the air raid sirens to sound off.

In reality, Laine’s start isn’t much different from last year. Two goals and three points isn’t a wide margin to overcome over the course of 82 games.

I’d also put forth that Laine’s defensive game has taken a slight step forward this year.

He’s a 20-year-old with a wicked amount of pressure on his shoulders. His ‘ice-man’ demeanor may make it look like he’s unfazed, but a goal-scorer who is not scoring goals is a player who is not content with his game.

Teams adapt. Teams are trying to take that lethal shot away. So Laine needs to adapt. It will come.

Maybe this week’s trip home to Finland for two meetings with the Florida Panthers will spark his game. If all else fails, perhaps we could see the return of that gnarly beard.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Military veterans take to the ice with ‘Sled Preds’

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NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

United States Marines Ben Maenza, Joseph Woodke, and John Curtin met while recovering from serious injuries sustained in the line of duty in Afghanistan. After leaving Walter Reed Military Hospital and going their separate ways, Joseph and John moved to Nashville to bring the group back together.

The trio fully committed to sled hockey playing for the Nashville Sled Preds and have gone from novices in the sport to Paralympic hopefuls. From the hospital bed to the elite ranks of American sled hockey, the men share a bond that looks a lot more like family than close friends.

The “Sled Preds” represent another compelling story as part of “Hockey Day in America.”

NBC Hockey Day in America schedule
Red Wings at Penguins – NBC – 12 p.m. ET (Watch live) – 
John Forslund will call the matchup with Joe Micheletti from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Bruins at Rangers – NBC – 3 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Mike Tirico will call the matchup at Madison Square Garden alongside Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury.

Blues at Predators – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Bridgestone Arena alongside Darren Pang.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Michaels and Tirico recall ‘Miracle on Ice’ in NBCSN special

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NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

Al Michaels may never get tired of talking about “The Miracle on Ice,” and can you really blame him?

NBC Sports will debut a 30-minute special – “Miracle on Ice – 40th Anniversary” – featuring Mike Tirico’s conversation with Michaels on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Michaels and Tirico look back at the U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team’s gold-medal run at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

As you can see from the video above, Michaels and Tirico set the scene, depicting a tough time in America. That stunning victory gave the country a boost, and created an enduring memory. You don’t get much more “Hockey Day in America” than the “Miracle on Ice.”

NBC Hockey Day in America schedule
Red Wings at Penguins – NBC – 12 p.m. ET (Watch live) – 
John Forslund will call the matchup with Joe Micheletti from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Bruins at Rangers – NBC – 3 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Mike Tirico will call the matchup at Madison Square Garden alongside Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury.

Blues at Predators – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Bridgestone Arena alongside Darren Pang.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

U.S. Pond Hockey Championships: ‘The ultimate event in grassroots hockey’

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NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

The 15th anniversary edition of the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships took place in January. Judging from the video above, the festivities earn the tag “the ultimate event in grassroots hockey.” Clearly, pond hockey carries the spirit of “Hockey Day in America.”

The 2020 edition drew 300 teams and 2,400 players. The sheer variety of players is something to behold, including pond hockey participants from Great Britain and Australia.

One of the highlights of the video profiles Reagan Rust, who uses the cheeky Twitter handle @RonaldReagan__. Rust learned about the opportunity to play via Instagram. Noticing that “The Mighty Drunks” of Nashville needed a player, she pounced on the chance to play pond hockey. As a former Beanpot tournament star, Rust fit right in.

NBC Hockey Day in America schedule
Red Wings at Penguins – NBC – 12 p.m. ET (Watch live) – 
John Forslund will call the matchup with Joe Micheletti from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Bruins at Rangers – NBC – 3 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Mike Tirico will call the matchup at Madison Square Garden alongside Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury.

Blues at Predators – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Bridgestone Arena alongside Darren Pang.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins vs. Red Wings on Hockey Day in America

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NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Pittsburgh enters this matchup just three points back of the Metro-leading Capitals as the Penguins look to extend their playoff run with a 14th straight appearance. The Pens enter this matchup after a 4-1 win against Montreal on Friday night to improve to 4-1-1 since the All-Star break.

Sidney Crosby and newly acquired Jason Zucker led the way over Montreal. With 3 assists, including one on each of Zucker’s goals, Crosby paced all players on Friday night. Since returning from a 28-game absence due to core muscle surgery, Crosby has 17 points (5G-12A) in 11 games and the Pens are 7-3-1. Part of those 17 points are two overtime goals (Jan. 17 at DET, Jan. 31 vs PHI) and a game-winner at FLA on Feb. 8.

Zucker, who was acquired on Monday and playing his second game with the Pens, put up his first multi- goal game this season (47 GP). The 28-year-old was born in Newport Beach, California, raised in Las Vegas, competed for the U.S. National Team Development Program, played his college hockey at the Univ. of Denver and spent the first eight-plus years of his NHL career with the Wild after Minnesota drafted him in 2010.

Detroit will look to avoid a season sweep in this third and final meeting after falling to Pittsburgh on Dec. 7 (5-3) and Jan. 17 (2-1 OT). The Red Wings, who have lost 26 of 31 on the road this season (5-24-2), conclude a four-game road trip with this game (0-3-0 thus far). For the Penguins, this is the third game of a four-game homestand that ends on Tuesday vs Toronto. Pittsburgh is the second-best home team in the league this season (20-5-4, 44 pts) behind Boston.

Detroit has lost 46 of their first 60 games this season, while their 32 points have them the frontrunners for the top overall pick. The Wings are on pace to finish this season with just 43 points, which would be the fewest points by any team in an 82-game season since the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in 1999-00 (39 points).

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET ON NBC]

WHAT: Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins
WHERE: PPG Paints Arena
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 16, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Red Wings-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RED WINGS
Robby FabbriDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha
Tyler BertuzziValtteri FilppulaAndreas Athanasiou
Darren HelmLuke GlendeningFrans Nielsen
Adam ErneChristoffer EhnBrendan Perlini

Filip HronekMike Green
Patrik NemethAlex Biega
Trevor DaleyGustav Lindstrom

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

PENGUINS
Jason Zucker – Sidney Crosby – Dominik Simon
Jared McCannEvgeni MalkinBryan Rust
Zach Aston-ReeseTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev
Sam LaffertyAndrew AgozzinoPatric Hornqvist

Jack JohnsonKris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz
Juuso RiikolaChad Ruhwedel

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

The HDIA tripleheader begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC, when Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins host Tyler Bertuzzi and the Detroit Red Wings, followed by an Original Six matchup with David Pastrnak and the Boston Bruins visiting Artemi Panarin and the New York Rangers at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

Coverage shifts to NBCSN at 6 p.m. ET for a Central Division battle as Ryan O’Reilly and the St. Louis Blues head to Music City to battle Roman Josi and the Nashville Predators.

Hockey Day in America pre-game coverage begins at noon ET on NBC from the plaza outside Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. Host Liam McHugh and analysts Keith Jones, Anson Carter, and Brian Boucher will anchor pre-game, intermission, and post-game coverage throughout the day.