NHL on NBCSN: Jets not worrying about Patrik Laine’s goal slump

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

WINNIPEG — Patrik Laine has been here before.

Mired in a scoring slump unbefitting of an elite goal scorer — one who has made a name for himself in the two-and-a-half years he’s played in the NHL with his signature release and near pin-point accuracy — Laine just hasn’t been the same player who set the league ablaze in the month of November.

It was then that Laine appeared to have the hockey equivalent of the Midas touch. Everything his stick graced ended up in the back of the net. A five-goal game, two more that ended with hat tricks, and 18 markers in 12 games had him flirting with the pantheon of some of the NHL’s best goal scorers.

Since then, Laine has only scored three times in 18 games dating back to Dec. 1. He’s gone stretches of six, five and four games without lighting the lamp and it has many concerned, questioning everything from his motivation to his morale.

Laine is a victim of his own doing in some of this. His rookie season produced 36 goals and he followed that up with a 44-goal campaign last season as he put up a fight against Alex Ovechkin in the race to the Rocket Richard Trophy. His theatrics in the month of November had people talking about him scoring 60, or more. And couple that effort with the fact that the Winnipeg Jets turned the corner last year and made their first push into the deep waters of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In short: expectations for Laine and for the team have never been higher. Gone are the days of merely hoping to get to the playoffs and fans yearning for a pedestrian 30-goal scorer.

The mob is ravenous now. They want Laine to hit 50, at least (he’s already amassed 104 in 197 career games). They want the Jets to win the Stanley Cup. Slumps, like the one Laine is currently treading water in, isn’t a part of this year’s game plan. It simply doesn’t compute.

And it’s not just the fans who are guilty of these expectations. They’re coming from within, too, including head coach Paul Maurice

“We’re all — I’m trying to find the right word — the one that popped into my head is ‘intoxicated’ by that shot,” Maurice said on Tuesday, just hours before the Jets pumped seven past the Colorado Avalanche — with none coming from Laine. “I’m doing it, too. When he crosses the blue line and he’s still four feet from the top of the circle and you know he’s going to shoot, I think there’s a chance this thing’s going in. How many guys in the league do you feel that way?

“If I was crossing the blue line you might as well just go get a Coke, because it’s not happening for you, you’re not missing anything. And then he kind of wears that frustration: ‘I can’t believe it didn’t go in. I’m going to use some Finnish words to describe how my play is.’ Would it be any different than when Connor McDavid winds it up from the tops of the circles and even though there’s five guys he’s gotta go through you think ‘Hey, there’s a chance he could do it,’ because you’ve seen it.”

Jets forward Bryan Little didn’t hesitate when asked if he felt that the expectations of Laine are too high.

“I think absolutely,” Little said. “Him and [Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston] Matthews being drafted [high], people are always going to compare and fight over who’s better for probably most of their careers. He’s one of those guys that if he doesn’t score in a few games he’s really down on himself – he feels like he should be giving himself opportunities to score every night and should be scoring every night.

“That’s pretty unrealistic, unless you can end the season with 82 goals. But for him, he puts a lot of pressure on himself to be that player. People expect that out of him now; he kind of put it on himself with how good he was and how much he scored right off the bat and I think people expect multiple five-goal games which is super unrealistic. But that’s what people expect.”

Laine, who leads the Jets with 24 goals this season (and is on pace to surpass his 44-goal mark from last year), has remained mostly mum when it comes to his current lot in life.

In the past, he declared that “hockey was hard” and that his confidence was lacking. When an elite goal scorer isn’t scoring, you kind of expect that life is a little in the dumps. Scoring goals makes an elite goal scorer happy. Not scoring does the opposite.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

“I would probably say the same things [now],” Laine said on Wednesday. “There’s been a big stretch where I haven’t scored, and so it’s kinda my specialty. It’s always frustrating when you’re not doing the right things. There’s still a lot of things you can do well for the team and that’s kinda my focus now, try to rather do those things and not worry about the goals because, eventually, they’ll come when you work hard and do small things right.

“I’m not saying these things because I want to score in the next game. I’m just saying this to you guys because this is how the thing is. I’ve had a couple of good responses in the last couple of years after I’ve said something like this, so hopefully, I can do some positive things on the ice and get over this bad stretch.”

Maurice feels Laine has made progress in the areas that a third-year pro should.

“He’s made progress in all the areas we need a 20-year-old to get better at,” Maurice said. “He’s still shooting the puck a ton. He’s had his stretches where he’s not scoring. He’s had his stretches when he’s absolutely on fire. We’ll take that. So many 20-year-olds can’t produce like he does at times. You’re constantly working his game to get more out of him. Like a lot of these kids that we’ve brought in, he’s been able to produce while they’re learning the game.

“So he’s getting better. A much, much better five-on-five hockey player than he was a year ago at this time. And as he gets physically stronger, he’ll be a little faster, the reads will come more natural to him. Eventually more zone time. I don’t know what his ceiling is. I wouldn’t be foolish enough to put one on him at this age. Great player, he’s going to get a lot better.”

What sparked Laine earlier this year was a move down the pecking order. Laine spent time a brief period on the fourth line before he was inserted on Adam Lowry‘s line as Maurice tried to stoke a fire.

It worked, with Laine finding adding some directness to his game and instilling in him the value of hard work in his own zone. From there, he was back on Little’s line, equipped with a new perspective, and it was off to the races.

Perhaps that’s what needs to happen again.

Maurice might say that Laine is getting better, but the eye test on some nights — arguably many lately — has shown a lethargic player struggling to find his way to the surface. His partnership with Little, despite some instances of brilliance, hasn’t formed the consistent chemistry wanted. One issue is the team has two other lines it would like to keep together, and the fourth line doesn’t see the minutes that Laine should be playing.

With Laine on the ice in 5v5 situations, shots for drop by 7.59 this year per/60, while shots against rise by 9.26 per/60. Numbers via Corsica.

Laine hasn’t been demoted during this spell, suggesting that Maurice is OK for the moment with having his sniper working within himself to sort out his issues.

“He’s just maturing, just getting older, being able to weather the times when you’re not putting the puck in the net,” Maurice said. “One of the positives is he doesn’t have to carry the weight of the team, that if he doesn’t score we can’t win. In the stretches where he hasn’t scored a lot, recently, we’re starting to see some real good improvements in his game, five-on-five. And that’s what we’re looking to do.”

Indeed, as good as Laine is, he isn’t tasked with carrying the team — in scoring or otherwise. It’s a luxury that Winnipeg has built over the years. They’re a team that’s deep enough to find scoring from all lines and can live without one of its top goal-getters not scoring for a while.

“If you’ve got a kid that can buy the hockey team time to teach and play him, that’s a real positive,” Maurice said.

John Walton (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Jets-Wild from Xcel Energy Center. Tappen, Milbury and Jeremy Roenick will anchor studio coverage.

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

The Buzzer: Benn keeps Stars rolling; Pastrnak, McDavid keep dominating

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Three Stars

1. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. It was only a matter of time until Benn started to produce. He is too good, too talented, and has too much of a track record to keep being as invisible as he had been on the scoresheet at the start of the season. Now the points are starting to show up in bunches. He scored two goals and added an assist on Tuesday to help lead the Stars to a huge 6-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Benn now has three goals and six total points over the past three games. The Stars, meanwhile, are now 11-1-1 after starting the year 1-7-1.

2. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. Nobody can stop this guy right now. He added two more goals in the Bruins’ 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, giving him a league-leading 19 goals in only 21 games this season. He sits three goals ahead of Leon Draisaitl for the top spot in the league even though Draisaitl has played in two additional games. Even without Patrice Bergeron in the lineup that top line continues to dominate. The duo of Pastrnak and Brad Marchand is one of the best in the league

3. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. Speaking of dominating, McDavid extended his current point streak to eight games with a goal and two assists in the Oilers’ big win to snap the San Jose Sharks’ five-game winning streak. He now has 20 points during that streak as he and Leon Draisaitl continue to carry the team. Read more about their win here.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • The New York Islanders’ point streak is now at 15 games (14-0-1) record thanks to their come-from-behind win in Pittsburgh against the Penguins. The line of Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Derick Brassard drove this one. Read all about it here.
  • Zach Parise scored two goals for the Minnesota Wild as they cruised to an easy win over the fading Buffalo Sabres.
  • Anthony Duclair continued his strong season for Ottawa with a pair of goals (up to nine on the season) in its 4-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
  • Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho both scored their 10th goals of the season in Carolina’s 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
  • Colorado’s depth forwards came through in a 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames, with Andre Burakovsky leading the way thanks to his two-goal performance.
  • Connor Hellebuyck stood tall for the Winnipeg Jets once again, turning aside 38 shots in a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators.
  • Aleksander Barkov, Brett Connolly, and Evgenii Dadonov all had two points in the Florida Panthers’ 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Highlights of the Night

Maybe the highlight of the season to this point, but Marc-Andre Fleury makes an absolutely incredible save to secure the win for the Vegas Golden Knights. Read all about it here.

It came in a losing effort, but Morgan Frost scored his first NHL goal for the Philadelphia Flyers and it was a beauty.

Speaking of beautiful goals, take another look at Oskar Sundqvist‘s goal for the St. Louis Blues in their 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, all set up by an incredible pass from Robert Thomas. Read all about that game here.

Bloopers of the Night

This goes in the books as a goal for Detroit Red Wings forward Robby Fabbri, continuing his strong start with his new team. He ended up getting a big assist from Senators forward Logan Brown who accidentally kicked it in his own net. Oops. Fortunately for him the Senators ended up getting the win.

Columbus’ 5-2 win over Montreal on Tuesday was the first time this season they have won a game by more than a single goal. Pierre-Luc Dubois had another huge night to help lead the way, and they also had a little bit of luck on their side.

Factoids

  • Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim scored his 13th career goal on Tuesday. He has scored five of those goals against Sergei Bobrovsky. [Sam Carchidi]
  • Among players to debut with the Boston Bruins only Barry Pederson required fewer games than David Pastrnak to reach the 150-goal mark. Pederson did it in 316 games while Pastrnak reached it in 346 games. [NHL PR]
  • Not only did he make the save of the night, Fleury became the seventh goalie ever to record 450 career wins. [NHL PR]
  • Kirby Dach has a five-game point streak for the Chicago Blackhawks, tied with Eddie Olczyk for the third-longest streak by an 18-year-old in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Miro Heiskanen recorded his third straight multi-point game for the Stars on Tuesday. The only defensemen in franchise history with a longer streak was Brad Maxwell with four straight games back when the team was still based in Minnesota. [NHL PR]
  • Jean-Gabriel Pageau leads the NHL in goals since the start of November and needs just four more goals this month to tie the Ottawa Senators franchise record for most goals in the month of November. [NHL PR]
  • Emil Bemstrom now has a five-game point streak for the Blue Jackets, tying a franchise record set by Dubois during the 2017-18 season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Boston Bruins 5, New Jersey Devils 1
Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Montreal Canadiens 2
Florida Panthers 5, Philadelphia Flyers 2
Minnesota Wild 4, Buffalo Sabres 1
New York Islanders 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 3 (OT)
Ottawa Senators 4, Detroit Red Wings 3
St. Louis Blues 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Winnipeg Jets 2, Nashville Predators 1
Carolina Hurricanes 4, Chicago Blackhawks 2
Dallas Stars 6, Vancouver Canucks 1
Colorado Avalanche 3, Calgary Flames 2
Vegas Golden Knights 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 2
Edmonton Oilers 5, San Jose Sharks 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Oilers snap Sharks’ win streak with big win

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After a dreadful start to the 2019-20 regular season, the San Jose Sharks started to look like the perennial playoff contender we have become used to seeing.

A six-game winning streak helped steady the ship in the Bay area, but the Sharks ran into the dynamic tandem of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and fell to the Edmonton Oilers, 5-2.

While the Sharks don’t have the ultimate trophy to back up their run over the past decade, they have long been the class of the Pacific Division.

However, with a new culture in Edmonton, the Oilers are looking to establish themselves as the new elite team in the Western Conference.

Oilers kept foot on the gas pedal

A strong start helped the Oilers capture an early two-goal lead. But their response after Kevin Labanc cut their lead in half is why they left the arena with two points against a division rival. Not only did Jujhar Khaira score late in the first period to restore a two-goal advantage, James Neal recorded his 13th of the season to keep the game out of reach.

Neal has enjoyed a bounce-back season after an extremely tough season with the Calgary Flames last year.

Dave Tippet has installed a system that allows skilled players to flourish in the offensive zone as long as they handle their responsibilities on the other end of the ice.

Through 23 games, the results have been favorable in Edmonton.

Draisaitl deserves more respect

When mentioning the top players of the game throughout the NHL, Draisaitl is often left off most lists.

Connor McDavid’s tantalizing skill set usually overshadows Draisaitl, but the German forward is quietly leading the NHL in points (16 goals, 28 assists) and should be considered a favorite for the Hart Trophy.

Draisaitl is currently riding a 13-game point streak while McDavid extended his own point streak to eight games.

The Oilers have eyes on returning to the postseason but will need more secondary scoring to compete for a Stanley Cup. The question general manager Ken Holland will have to answer is, do they have the pieces internally, or does Edmonton need to make an acquisition?

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

Fleury’s save of the year candidate extends Maple Leafs’ misery

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If we are being honest, simply calling this a save of the year candidate might be underselling it.

This might actually already be the save of the year because it is really difficult to imagine what it would take to top this.

With the Vegas Golden Knights hanging on to a one-goal lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs late in the third period, Marc-Andre Fleury did this to Nic Petan, who thought he was going to tie the game with the entire net staring him right in the face.

I mean … come on.

That is just completely ridiculous.

After the initial shot from Ilya Mikheyev hit the cross-bar behind Fleury, it bounced to a wide open Petan who attempted to backhand the shot into the yawning net and, well, you saw the replay.

What the hell are you supposed to do about that as a shooter? Nothing. There is nothing you can do. You did everything right, you did exactly what you needed to do, and the universe still punched you in the face.

The Golden Knights added an empty-net goal to go on to a 4-2 win, extending the Maple Leafs’ current losing streak to six games. They have won just two games in regulation in their past 16 (and only five games total during that stretch) and are 9-10-4 on the season. That record is currently one of the worst in the NHL for a team that was supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Kucherov injured as Lightning get shut down by Blues: 3 takeaways

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It has been an odd stretch as of late for the St. Louis Blues.

Even though they entered Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning riding a three-game losing streak, they still collected points in two of them (overtime losses) and were on a 9-2-2 run since Oct. 20.

The majority of those games (seven of them to be exact) extended beyond regulation and were decided in overtime or a shootout. It is a risky way to keep trying to win games and at some point they were going to need to show they could win a game in 60 minutes.

Mission accomplished on Tuesday as they completely shut down the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the league’s most dangerous offensive teams, in a 3-1 win.

Here are three things that stood out about the Blues’ win.

1. This was championship level defense from the Blues. Even with Tampa Bay’s slow start this is still one of the most talented rosters in the league both on paper and on the ice. Shutting them down is never easy. They have started to find their way in recent games and fill the back of the net the way they did a year ago, scoring 29 goals in their previous six games entering Tuesday, but all of that disappeared in St. Louis. The Blues limited the Lightning to just 18 shots on goal and, for the most part, did a great job insulating Jordan Binnington against their forwards. On the rare occasion that Tampa Bay did get something through, the Blues’ Stanley Cup winning goal was up to the challenge.

With Vladimir Tarasenko out of the lineup for most of the season the Blues are going to have a hard time generating offense and are going to need to win games like this.

They showed they could do it last year, and Tuesday was a great example of how they still have it against the league’s best.

2. The game-winning goal from Oskar Sundqvist was a thing of beauty. The Blues did not know if they were going to have Sundqvist for this game after he had a disciplinary hearing for charging Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson over the weekend.

Instead of a suspension, Sundqvist was able to skate away with only a fine.

That was fortunate for the Blues because he ended up scoring the game-winning goal with a perfect snipe that was set up by an incredible behind-the-back pass by Robert Thomas.

3. Nikita Kucherov exited with an injury after a big hit. Perhaps the most important news for the Lightning out of this game wasn’t the result itself, but the status of superstar winger Nikita Kucherov.

The league’s reigning MVP and scoring champion exited the game later in the second period after he was crushed by Blues forward Brayden Schenn.

He did not return to the game.

Kucherov has not been as dominant offensively as he was a year ago when he finished with 128 points, but he had been starting to turn it on lately and carried a four-game point streak into Tuesday (recording seven points in those four games).

The only update coach Jon Cooper had after the game is that Kucherov’s absence was not related concussion protocol.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.