WEATHER ALERT

In the Laine of fire After slow start to season, sniper gets his groove back

Patrik Laine's feeling it and everybody knows it — from the other guys in the Winnipeg Jets locker room to the rest of hockey world.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/11/2018 (1524 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Patrik Laine’s feeling it and everybody knows it — from the other guys in the Winnipeg Jets locker room to the rest of hockey world.

Score five goals in a night and the secret’s really out.

The Jets young marksman is up to 19 goals just 22 games into the 2018-19 season, including 16 in the month of November and 11 during the team’s four-game road trip (2-2-0). He’s also registered three hat-tricks this month, finding the back of the net five times in St. Louis on Saturday night to take over the NHL goal-scoring lead, prior to Monday’s action.

Patrik Laine scored five goals against St. Louis Saturday when the Jets beat the Blues 8-4. (Jeff Roberson / The Associated Press)

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Laine was named the NHL’s first star of the week (for the week ending Nov. 25) on Monday.

Laine, 20, is locked, loaded and looking for more starting Tuesday when the Jets take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at Bell MTS Place (7 p.m.).

“When it’s going in, it feels like every time you’re touching the puck there’s a lot of time and just try to rip it and somehow it goes in,” he said after Monday’s practice. “Obviously, last game was one of those games, but it’s not going to be like this the whole year. There’s going to be times when I’m not scoring, and struggling, but hopefully the first 10, 13 games was the part where I’m struggling.”

Indeed, this was a guy feeling major heat for his lack of production just a few weeks ago. He had just three goals in October and couldn’t find a line to stick with prior to a trip home to Helsinki.

His fortunes turned at Hartwall Arena when he doubled his output with three markers against the Florida Panthers.

“That was kind of the turning point for me. It was a good trip for me, overall, to get back home and play a good two games. After that it’s been pretty good,” said Laine, who rewards himself with the treat of a heaping bowl of Smarties ice cream each time he scores a hat-trick.

“I think I’ve done that before. I’ve been struggling, and then when I get one goal or just a successful game, after that it’s just easier to play and the goals are just coming. I feel like I’m on a pretty good roll right now, but there’s still some things I need to do better. Obviously, the goals are not always telling the whole story. Obviously it’s great that I’m scoring goals, but there are still things I need to do better.”

Laine was a constant threat with the Jets on the man advantage, but his success at five-on-five play slowly began with linemates Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev in Helsinki. It’s really spiked since he was reunited with centre Bryan Little back in Winnipeg, and with the inclusion of speedy, dogged Kyle Connor on left wing.

Little and Connor each had four assists against the Blues as Laine became the first player since Detroit’s Johan Franzen in 2011 to score five goals in a game.

“I think we will be excited, and you should be, when you see that many pucks go into the net for any one player. As a group, what the three were able to do (in St. Louis) was impressive,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “They’re going to do things differently based on the style of player, but the end result is they had a lot of offensive zone time, being really quick and being hard.”‘

Patrik Laine, with Josh Morrissey (left) and Kyle Connor, is a goal shy of scoring 100 in his career. (Jeff Roberson / The Associated Press files)

Laine and Little had been paired up front a couple of times with wingers Nikolaj Ehlers and Mathieu Perreault taking turns on the left side — with mediocre results.

Maurice pointed out a trio won’t spark chemistry if the individual games of its members are incomplete.

“I never really assessed the Little-Ehlers-Laine grouping as a line with no chemistry because we had two guys on that line (Ehlers and Laine) still trying to find their game (and) Bryan trying to figure out where they were going shift after shift,” said the veteran coach. “(Now) Patty becomes easier to read, Kyle Connor… he’s getting better and he’s getting strong and now he has more experience knowing when to put a puck in deep, when to beat a guy, so as they become more definable in their game, as they each bring the same game very night, then you can assess whether a line has chemistry, and right now we’re pretty pleased with it.”

Laine is also just a goal shy of 100 for his NHL career (177 games since the start of the 2016-17 season). The second overall pick in the ’16 NHL Draft is set to become the fourth-youngest player in league history to reach the milestone, behind Wayne Gretzky, Jimmy Carson and Brian Bellows.

Perreault, shuffled to a line with Lowry and Tanev while Andrew Copp recovers from a concussion, said he’s awed by Laine’s ability, but he’s seen something similar up close before when he and Alex Ovechkin were teammates with the Washington Capitals for parts of four seasons.

“The shot, the way they play the game, is very similar,” Perreault said. “Ovie was fun to watch, there were stretches of the season as soon as he got the puck you just knew it was going to go in. He’d cross the blue and you’d think, ‘Yeah, that’s a goal’ and boom he would put it in. It feels the same way with Patty.

“When he gets hot, same thing last year, he had a stretch where every time he stepped onto the ice you felt like he was gonna score, it’s always nice to have that on your team.”

Teemu Selanne, the last guy in a Jets jersey with this kind of wow factor, called it earlier this month in Helsinki. The Finnish Flash advised it was only a matter of time before his young, fellow countryman started filling the net.

The ex-Jet and NHL hall-of-famer is paying close attention, it seems

“5 goals for @PatrikLaine29…wow, incredible performance,” Selanne tweeted Saturday night.

Patrik Laine had just three goals in October prior to a trip home to Helsinki when his fortunes turned and he scored three goals in two games against the Florida Panthers. (Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva files)

Laine admitted he didn’t see the tweet but was flattered.

He’s actually chasing an NHL record for most goals in a calendar month (20), which is shared by Selanne (March 1993, in 14 games, during his rookie year in Winnipeg) and Joe Malone (1921, in nine games).

“Oh, Teemu has it? Might as well leave it to him. No, he has so many records, so might as well try to break it,” said Laine. “Do you guys actually know how many games we have left this month? Two? OK… just five (goals) in two games.”

“No pressure at all. I didn’t know that, but fun fact.”

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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Updated on Monday, November 26, 2018 10:31 PM CST: updates

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