NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday afternoon’s matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and the Florida Panthers at 2 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.
For the NHL, the next two days is a chance to showcase their product to a country that sports one of the league’s best talent streams.
For Finland, it’s a rare chance to bask in their homegrown talent. Two teams, each possessing two of the top exports ever produced on the east side of the Gulf of Bothnia, which spills into the Baltic Sea.
Patrik Laine — Suomi’s great sniper.
Aleksander Barkov — Suomi’s great all-rounder
The Battle of Tampere in the Land of a Thousand Lakes, the home of Darude and Sandstorm.
Both Laine and the Winnipeg Jets and Bakov and the Florida Panthers enter this rendition of the NHL’s Global Series in considerably different places.
Laine has flat out struggled out of the gate. Aside from his three power-play goals and one power-play assist, the ‘Finnisher’ has but one point in five-on-five situations in 12 games this season.
It’s been a tough go for the 20-year-old in his third NHL season. Jets coach Paul Maurice has had to bring out the industrial blender more than once over the past few games. Each press of that blend button has produced a different result. Stints on first, second, third and fourth line have all been tried.
So far, nothing has worked.
Despite this, the Jets have cobbled together a 7-4-1 record with Laine running on less-than-optimal fuel.
Conversely, Barkov has eight points in nine games, picking up right where he left off after last season’s career year. But one wonders if he’d trade in some of those for a couple more wins.
Barkov’s problem isn’t himself, but rather his team. Florida has just two wins to show for in their first nine tries.
Another season has meant another injury for starter Roberto Luongo. His rotten luck has forced Florida into relying on James Reimer and Michael Hutchinson, an endeavor that hasn’t exactly panned out. Both of Luongo’s understudies sport save percentages well below .900 and have mostly failed to perform at even the minimum level required to win.
Florida sits in the middle of the pack in terms of goals-per-game but hovers near the bottom in goals-against. The math isn’t that complicated: score fewer + give up more = lose many. That math has checked out.
Both teams have had several days now to ponder their respective lots in life.
Laine should be salivating at the thought of seeing Reimer and Hutchinson over the next 48 hours. On the golden hockey scale, the guy who can’t seem to score five-on-five should outweigh the goalie who can’t stop pucks.
The pressure on Laine is growing, and he knows the kind of stakes he’s walking into.
“This might be the only time in my life that I’m able to play an NHL game back home,” Laine told the Winnipeg Sun.
“We’re just going to play as hard as we can and try to adjust to the atmosphere,” he told NHL.com. “I know it’s going to be really nice to play here and good fans and everything will be different than America, but it’s still really big points for us.”
Both teams are trying to achieve similar outcomes at the end of the day.
In 48 hours, we may be talking about Laine getting his season back on the rails or Florida right back in the thick of things in the Atlantic Division.
Neither is also a possibility, but with two Finns getting a chance to grab bragging rights, it’s likely at least one is in the cards.