THE Winnipeg Jets ended a four-game losing streak on Tuesday night at the MTS Centre but all anyone wanted to talk about was the 18-year-old Finnish sniper and his supernatural game-winning goal.
Patrik Laine drew the puck back to his stick off a draw won by centre Mark Scheifele and snapped the puck past Dallas Stars goaltender Antti Niemi. The goal, scored with 5:07 remaining in the game, gave Winnipeg a 3-2 lead. The speed and skill of the thing was breathtaking.
"Jesus, that’s crazy," said Jets captain Blake Wheeler after being informed Laine had gone five games without a goal before Tuesday’s hat trick in a 5-2 victory over the Stars. "That’s great though, to have that kind of expectation from an 18-year-old just shows you how special he is. For me, hat tricks are great, but that second goal, in that moment, when we needed it the most, that’s pretty special. I sure as heck wasn’t going to put it in. I was hitting (Niemi) in the head all night."
It was Laine’s third hat trick of the season (he opened scoring in the first period and added an empty-netter with 1:02 left in the third) and brought his goal-scoring total to 26, one behind rookie leader Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Laine’s 47 points are one behind behind rookie leader Mitch Marner, also of the Leafs.
"That’s an incredible shot," said Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. "You see him set him set it up, he stick-lifts (the defenceman), he gets a little toe drag in there and puts it on net. That’s a world-class player."
Jets head coach Paul Maurice pronounced the outing Laine’s best of the season, with or without his three goals.
"That’s the difference right in that pure talent," said Maurice. "You go back two years ago and how hard we had to grind to crash one in.… How do I say this the right way? When you’re assessing Patty Laine and where he’s at — if he didn’t score the three goals, I could’ve still come out and said that was his best game of the season. All the other pieces to his game were NHL-right-on. Battles. Positioning. Finishing routes. Finishing a check.
"I didn’t put him on the ice at the end of the game because he had two and I was hoping to get three. We’re just trying to win the game. I put him on the ice because he was right. It’s a good line. Andrew (Copp) has got a real nice defensive mind out there. It wasn’t about development. I wasn’t trying to make him feel good. He had two. I put him on the ice because it’s the best game he had played probably by far. Then he throws the three goals in, too, so you’re all excited about that. But the quality of his game was outstanding and very close to the three or four games prior to his injury."
The Jets won’t have defenceman Toby Enstrom on as four-game road trip that begins Thursday night in Pittsburgh. Enstrom left Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first period with a lower-body injury.
"Nothing yet," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice, when asked to update Enstrom’s status. "We’re still waiting for things to settle down."
Forward Marko Dano (lower body) has been skating but will also remain at home. He’s been sidelined for 21 games.
Veteran goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, meanwhile, will join the team on the road. He’s returned to skating after missing three games will a lower-body ailment.
ON THE DEFENSIVE
Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza are high-end offensive producers but Stars head coach Lindy Ruff is loathe to use them as the club’s Nos. 1 and 2 centres.
"The issue with both is we spend too much time in our end," said Ruff. "You need better, harder defenders, more physical guys to get the puck back. The numbers that support not having them down low are pretty good and our numbers when they’re not down low... Once you start breaking out of the zone there’s not much ice for anybody but if you’re going to struggle in your zone 5-on-5, and not be able to kill plays or get to a play quick enough."