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?

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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

Wednesday Night Hockey: Laine vs. Matthews debate

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

They went No. 1 and 2 overall in the 2016 NHL Draft and have played important roles in how both of their franchises have turned around their fortunes. So if you were an NHL general manager building a franchise, who would you take? Patrik Laine or Auston Matthews? The PHT staff weighed in.


LEAHY: The Laine vs. Matthews debate is the new Ovechkin vs. Crosby one that began with the 2005-06 NHL season when both entered the league and began their dominance. You have Laine, who is the new-age Ovechkin and is going to win a handful of Rocket Richard Trophies by the time he’s done and give the Jets at least 40 goals a year for the next decade plus. Then there’s Matthews, your Crosby in this scenario, who will collect plenty of Art Ross Trophies and maybe, like Sid’s done twice already, grab a few Richard’s as well.

So if you’re a GM and you have to start a franchise around one, the prevailing thought is you go with the center. Like in soccer where you want a strong spine down the middle of the pitch, an elite No. 1 center can take a team to another level. Think of how many NHL teams currently don’t have such a player and are suffering. Matthews is a player who can make his teammates around him better and while both are young have plenty of improvements to be made in their games, I would stick with the center.

It comes down to preference. Laine’s goal scoring will go unmatched over the next decade. Matthews could threaten a goal scoring crown, but ultimately develop into the better two-way player. The game of hockey wins as long as these two young stars are healthy and productive.

O’BRIEN: As much as I want to go the contrarian route and go for the funny quotes and funny facial hair of Laine, it’s got to be Matthews.

In most instances, you’d be obsessing about Laine’s goal-scoring, yet Matthews isn’t far behind in that regard. While Laine’s shot talent is almost unrivaled, Matthews has a killer release, and the Maple Leafs stars makes up some of the deficit with the sheer volume of pucks he sends on net.

One thing that got lost in the furor of Matthews’ four-goal debut was how complete his game was, right off the bat. Matthews has been doing so much damage at even-strength, so now that he’s getting more power-play time with the top unit, the sky’s the limit. As a reliable center, Matthews simply does more than Laine from an all-around perspective, as the Finn is, well, an unfinished project.

The beauty of both players is that, as much as they’ve shown already, we still haven’t seen their ceilings. Like I mentioned, Matthews hasn’t always gotten the top PP reps, and he could conceivably become a 20-minute workhorse. Laine scored his 44 goals in just 16:29 TOI per game last season, which feels pretty much impossible in the modern era.

Ultimately, you really can’t go wrong with either option. While this isn’t as fun as Fortnite-barbing, the truth is: when in doubt, choose the center.

GRETZ: Laine is an incredible talent and is the franchise-altering player the Jets needed to drag themselves out of perpetual mediocrity. Before he arrived they were always a team that had a lot of decent individual talent, but no piece to bring it all together.

Laine has been that player, and while he is not Alex Ovechkin (no one is), he makes that sort of impact and will probably be the player to end his run at the top of the goal-scoring list in one of these upcoming seasons.

Having said that, the choice still has to be Matthews. Like James said, when you are starting a rebuild and when most things are equal you always take the center over the winger. That is where championship teams are built, and while I’m not yet sold on Matthews’ all-around game (he still has some work to do 5-on-5), he is just as dominant as Laine is from a goal-scoring perspective and as a center is probably more likely to make the players around him better as a playmaker. Ultimately they are both going to be top-five talents for the better part of their careers and dominate the league, but I think you have to take Matthews.

ALFIERI: Let’s start by pointing out that both these players are terrific. They’re both elite when it comes to putting the puck in the back of the opponent’s net, but I’ve got to go with Matthews. First, I’ll always favor a center over a winger. Anybody who plays that position at a high level can impact the game more than an elite winger. There’s a ton of responsibilities both offensively and defensively that come with playing down the middle, and Matthews has shown that he’s capable of playing a complete game.

Many people assume that Laine is the better goalscorer (he might be), but Matthews scored 40 goals in his first year and he would have scored 40 again last year had he not missed 20 games. Although Laine has a wicked release, Matthews is able to change the angle of his shot at the last second, which makes him fool defenders and goaltenders on a nightly basis. That’s nothing short of incredible and not many players in the league are able to do what he does in that respect.

Give me Matthews.

BILLECK: I’ve had the benefit of watching Patrik Laine every day for the past two and a bit years. He dropped 36 goals in his rookie season and then finished runner-up to Alex Ovechkin. He can score goals. Everyone knows that. He’s transformed the Winnipeg Jets power play into one of the best in the league. His unit is lethal and teams are forced to choose between Laine at the top of the circle and Mark Scheifele in the slot. Team’s don’t often choose right because there’s no right option. Pick your poison, but know they both kill.

Laine is elite. There’s no question. But when you’re building a team around a player, outside of Ovechkin, you’re going to choose a center. Whether it’s Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Patrice Bergeron or someone else, the spine of a team is important and having an elite, franchise center is a must for any team vying for a Stanley Cup. So the choice here is Auston Matthews, despite all the danger Laine brings.

Matthews is the better 5v5 player. He’s the better defender. He’s the better two-way player. And he scores in a similar fashion. Laine is an incredible talent, don’t get me wrong, but Matthews just does more at this point in his career. If Laine turns into Ovi later on, my opinion could change. But Matthews is the more complete package at the moment.

Pre-game coverage begins with a special on-site edition of NHL Live at 6 p.m. ET, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside analysts Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick, and NHL insider Bob McKenzie from True North Square outside of Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Pre-game coverage will feature an interview between Roenick and Laine, as well as interviews with Matthews and John Tavares.

Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick travels to Manitoba to call his first game in Winnipeg since Dec. 29, 1995, when he served as the New Jersey Devils play-by-play commentator. The Jets defeated the Devils, 5-3, courtesy of a five-goal third period which began with a power-play goal from then-Jets forward and Emrick’s current broadcast partner Eddie Olczyk. Olczyk played parts of five seasons with the Jets (1990-93 and 1994-96), as well parts of four seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs (1987-91).

In the second game of the Wednesday Night Hockey doubleheader, the Tampa Bay Lightning visit the Colorado Avalanche at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Patrik Laine looks to continue to own Stars

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The Dallas Stars must hate Patrik Laine at this point and groan when they see the Winnipeg Jets on the schedule.

That hate doesn’t stem from the fact that he plays on a Central Division rival. There’s always going to be a certain level of dislike amongst divisional opponents, both of whom are set to meet once again on Saturday night in Dallas.

No. That hatred brews from Laine being able to do what he wants, when he wants against the Stars who, if history is any indication, know there is little, if anything, they can do about it.

Laine has simply eviscerated the Stars over his first two seasons in the NHL. In nine games, the 44-goal man from a year ago has notched 14 goals and added four assists — a two-point per game clip against a team that boasts a pretty good defense.

It gets worse, too. The domination hasn’t just come five-on-five. Five of those goals have come on the power play — Laine’s bread and butter — and five more of those goals have turned into game winners.

Laine has accounted for nearly half of the 31 goals the Jets have scored against Dallas since he entered the league in 2016-17. Hell, he’s nearly matching the 19 goals Dallas has scored against the Jets during that time all by himself.

He’s taken 34 shots against the Stars in his career and has scored on 41.2 percent of them. That’s Laine’s second-highest shooting percentage against any team (he’s 41.7 percent against the Toronto Maple Leafs).

In his typical, impassive fashion, Laine seemed unfazed by his success.

“It’s just another game for us,” Laine told the team’s website. “Every game is different. It doesn’t matter how many goals you have scored before. It’s always a new game and that’s how we are treating this one too.”

From trashing the Vancouver Canucks off the ice to thrashing the Stars on it, there’s not much that Laine can’t do these days it seems.


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