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This article was published 20/11/2019 (703 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
DALLAS — Just 18 seconds have clicked off the clock Tuesday night when Patrik Laine scores his fifth goal of the season, giving the Winnipeg Jets the jump on the Nashville Predators.
There are no big spoilers here — it’s been well-documented the visitors go on to post a 2-1 triumph over their Central Division-rivals to remain perfect after three games of a four-game road swing. But the game-opening goal is, indeed, a pivotal moment worth dissecting. And it’s a rather fortunate sequence for the Jets that leads to the early advantage.
Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson sends a shot high over the Winnipeg net, the puck rims around the glass and Laine grabs it in the neutral zone. Now it’s give-and-go time for the big Finn, who gains the blue line and immediately slides the frozen biscuit over to his opposite winger, Kyle Connor, before charging toward the net.
Now it’s decision time for Connor. The 22-year-old Michigan product is no slouch when it comes to goal scoring. He’s potted 74 goals in the equivalent of 21/2 NHL seasons, including 34 a year ago, and he’s up to seven through 22 games of the 2019-20 campaign.
But he possesses playmaking instincts, too, and has nearly as many assists (71) as goals since making his NHL debut three years ago.
Remember, no two 2-on-1 breaks are created equally and each takes on a life of its own, Connor says Wednesday afternoon following a practice in Dallas.
We take you now into the mind of the player responsible for orchestrating the Jets’ fastest goal from the opening faceoff of a game this season.
"We’ve got a 2-on-1 and Patty passes it early," Connor says. "Most guys will tell you on a 2-on-1 they want to pass to get the goalie moving. But there’s cases where the defenceman just plays it too well, so you always need your peripheral vision. You’re looking over (at your teammate) but you’re looking at what the goalie’s doing, too, and if there’s an open shot.
"It’s about reading the play, a split-second decision. We’ve had those decisions many times in our life and you run back on what you’ve done in the past, too."
While many fans are still in the hotdog line, Nashville defenceman Ryan Ellis finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place — in the form of two lethal young scorers wearing white bearing down in the Predators zone.
Connor explains he prefers to play the waiting game until a blue-liner commits to a defensive move. In this case, Ellis’s choice leaves him with a simple decision. One of the NHL’s premier two-way defenders turns to his right, goes down on one knee and thrusts out his stick, flat against the ice to take away as much of the passing lane as he can.
In the Preds crease, goalie Juuse Saros is lined up square to the puck carrier, anticipating a bullet. The left-shooting Connor sees no easy access points, although he’s already dedicated himself to a dish to Laine.
"That time, I wasn’t even thinking shot. Get the puck to Patty, get the goalie going side to side and that’s tough for them to stop. That’s my process on that one," Connor says. "The way the defenceman played it, he turned toward the net and went down with his stick. That’s a pretty easy pass, to be honest, just a little saucer over his stick.
"If he would have slid with his body, it’s tougher because you’ve gotta get the puck higher. So, that play, if you can wait long enough to the goal, Patty’s going to have a back door."
That’s exactly what transpires. Connor raises the puck so it sails slightly over the shaft of Ellis’s stick, settling right in Laine’s wheelhouse. The gifted goal scorer wastes no time snapping it into the open cage to spark the visitors and suck the steam out of a desperate Nashville team.
We now take you into the mind of the Jets bench boss on the gravity of the early goal.
"We couldn’t have started any better," head coach Paul Maurice says after the game.
"We know coming in on the road that they’ve lost a few and it’s a veteran team. They’ve got lots of firepower, so they would be ready for this game and it’s a loud building, just like playing in Winnipeg.
"You get the first one and you kind of take some of the wind out of it. It was a real good start for us, for sure."
Assistant 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).