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Laine’s cold streak isn’t only warning sign for Jets

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Search Patrik Laine‘s name and you’ll see a lot of pessimism lately, and that makes sense.

After all, the Finnish winger is ice-cold, to the point that you can slice and dice his numbers in a wide variety of unflattering ways, at least if you make sure to skate past the whole “18 goals in November” thing.

The takes really hit a boiling point after possibly Laine’s lowest point as an NHL player. While the Winnipeg Jets managed a 4-3 shootout win against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, Laine only logged 10:55 of ice time, and again — that’s in a game that included a full five-minute overtime of 3-on-3 action. (That “free hockey” accounted for 52 seconds of Laine’s ice time.)

That ice time marks the second-lowest of Laine’s career, but his worst was a game cut short by injuries, so this was the harshest “coach’s decision” the sniper’s faced yet.

The Winnipeg Sun’s Ted Wyman wonders if that tough game was a “wakeup call,” one that might even merit a healthy scratch, and he’s far from the only person cringing at Laine’s numbers.

No doubt about it, the Jets need to make sure that Laine is focused and confident with the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs not much more than two months away.

Is it possible, though, that Laine’s struggles distract from some issues for the Jets? Winnipeg isn’t necessarily in a crisis, but there are some things to consider.

While that trio is dominant, Laine isn’t exactly riding with high-end scorers. During the last month or so, he’s mostly been skating with Bryan Little (a decent but unspectacular center) and Jack Roslovic (an intriguing but unfinished talent). It’s perfectly reasonable to wonder if the Jets would be wise to move Little or Roslovic off that combination in favor of Mathieu Perreault, a long-underrated play driver who has played at center in the past.

Either way, it’s clear that injured winger Nikolaj Ehlers is missed, whether Ehlers would line up with Wheeler and Scheifele (allowing Connor to boost Laine), or if Ehlers could join up with Laine.

  • The Jets aren’t lighting opponents up possession-wise.

Perhaps Winnipeg is coasting through the season while saving that “extra gear” for the postseason, but they’re not necessarily dominant by certain measures.

Before that Bruins game, Money Puck tweeted that the Jets have been looking like an “average team” at times in 2018-19, and that they were stronger according to the same expected goals metrics last season. Looking at Natural Stat Trick, Winnipeg is middle-of-the-pack by a variety of standards, including Corsi and Fenwick. They can’t explain it away by “shot quality” alone, as they’re middling in high-danger scoring chances, too.

Again, this isn’t to say that the Jets are a “paper tiger.” There’s plenty of talent on hand, and this team’s also dealt with substantial injuries to the likes of Ehlers and Dustin Byfuglien.

That said …

  • They might indeed want to spend at the trade deadline.

On Monday, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun postulated that there might be something of an arms race between the Jets and the Nashville Predators during the deadline (sub required).

Winnipeg was happy with the addition of Paul Stastny last season, and there have been murmurs about Derick Brassard, but this could be a time for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to gamble a bit.

For one thing, this team may very well need a bigger boost than you’d think, at least considering some of the struggles depicted in their underlying numbers.

Really, though, this might be the Jets’ best chance. Both Laine and Connor are due significant raises with their rookie contracts set to expire after this season, and Jacob Trouba needs a new deal as an RFA, too. Much like the Maple Leafs, things could really start to get tight for the Jets once they pay some of their brilliant young players — and they might lose some key ones in the process.

Cap Friendly projects the Jets’ deadline cap space at about $26.45 million. They should spend as much of it as ownership will allow.

***

Again, this situation is far from “doom and gloom,” as the Jets are set to be a competitive team for some time. Maybe some of their sneaky (possession stats) and headline-grabbing (Laine slump) issues could actually inspire this patient franchise to go bold, and possibly win big in the process?

Ultimately, Winnipeg’s challenges – and ambitions – could really spice things up during the trade deadline. Again.

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.

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

Patrik Laine’s five-goal night wins fan $1 million prize

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Patrik Laine‘s virtuoso five-goal performance inspired a wide array of reactions, at least once people got beyond the general awe.

Some used this as an opportunity to criticize those who doubted Laine, particularly his ability to score at even-strength. Pondering the historical relevance was only natural, and it ended up being logical considering how often Laine matched or approached the work of Wayne Gretzky. Others wonder if this was a true sign that Laine would take the Maurice Richard torch from Alex Ovechkin.

There was likely one person even happier about Laine scoring five goals than Laine himself during Winnipeg’s 8-4 win against the St. Louis Blues.

No, this isn’t about sheer, naive fandom.

Instead, it’s about Laine making money not just for himself, but for a lucky person in Winnipeg. Canadian supermarket chain Safeway runs a “Score & Win” promotion, and a lucky fan, Christopher Haley, hit a $1 million prize thanks to a Jets player scoring five goals.

The fine print details that the winner is slated to receive $50K every year for 20 years.

“Hopefully I made someone pretty happy,” said Laine, who was aware of what his five-goal night did for one lucky fan.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that the promotion yielded that big win for a lucky shopper/fan/shopper-fan. In October 2017, a fan won $100K when Logan Couture generated a hat trick, becoming the first person to land a big cash prize.

As you can see from this winners list, most people seem to win $25 gift cards, which are nothing to sneeze at, but certainly aren’t life-changing.

All things considered, this Winnipeg resident has little excuse but to become Laine’s biggest fan beyond blood relatives … and probably a bigger fan that at least some in the Laine clan.

At minimum, some of that winning money should probably go toward a Laine jersey, right?

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Laine, Barkov set for spotlight in Finland

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.

[WATCH LIVE – 2 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

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.

Barkov, too.

“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.

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

What is wrong with Patrik Laine?

Associated Press
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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