What’s wrong with Patrik Laine? It’s the burning question these days surrounding the Winnipeg Jets.
Forget the team is leading the Central Division, third overall in the NHL and appears poised for another deep playoff run. The main talking point seems to be Laine’s prolonged scoring drought, his often messy play in his own end, his second-period benching earlier this week in Boston and, ultimately, what this might cost the 20-year-old in contract talks as a pending restricted free agent later this summer.
In an attempt to provide some clarity for you, dear readers — and perhaps because I’m a glutton for punishment — I went looking high and low for answers in the early morning hours Friday, after returning home from Bell MTS Place following the Jets’ 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
I watched, and re-watched, every single second of Laine’s most recent outing. There was some good. Some bad. And plenty of blah.
Let’s go to the autopsy.
The Jets get an early power play. Laine gets in a good shooting position just 2:17 into the game, firing a hard wrister from 36 feet out that goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky knocks away. He’s already one shot attempt ahead of what he did the entire night in Boston, so that’s a good sign.
Not so good is when Laine can’t handle a Columbus clearing attempt at the blue-line and doesn’t tip a Kyle Connor pass deep enough to prevent another easy clear. He does make a crisp cross-ice pass to Blake Wheeler for a good zone entry, but then gets knocked off the puck, which is cleared once again.
After a lengthy rest that includes the first TV timeout, Laine comes out for a defensive-zone faceoff and promptly loses his stick on a puck battle behind the Jets’ net. But he has a great view of linemates Bryan Little and Jack Roslovic breaking free on a two-on-one in which Ryan Murray and Nick Foligno steal what looks to be a sure goal from Little. Overall, a nice shift from the second line.
A centre-ice faceoff results in some offensive-zone time, but a weak cross-ice pass from Laine back to a defenceman is intercepted by Columbus, resulting in a turnover. Not much doing here.
A short shift here, right after Columbus had taken the lead on Josh Anderson’s power-play goal. Laine does a good job clearing the puck out of trouble in his own end, but it goes out of play a few seconds later, leading to another TV timeout.
Now this is more like it. A clearly engaged Laine hits Columbus defenceman Scott Harrington not once, but twice, in a six-second span, knocking the blue-liner to the ice the second time. Little and defenceman Dmitry Kulikov make nice plays to keep the puck in the Blue Jackets’ zone, so the line gets some sustained attack time but nothing really dangerous.
Paul Maurice clearly liked what he saw on that last shift, as he quickly goes back to the trio right after the top line completes a shift. However, this time Laine and company spend the shift pinned in their own end, although Laine is the one to finally skate the puck out of danger, get to centre and dump it in, allowing for a line change.
To begin the second period, Laine has a nice offensive zone entry and chip-in, which Columbus quickly handles and turns around, resulting in Seth Jones getting a good scoring chance.
Laine gets a one-on-one with Zach Werenski but tries one of those fancy toe-drags he often does while streaking down the left side. No dice, as Werenski breaks it up. However, Laine does create a good cycle, working the puck back to Tyler Myers, who gives it back a few seconds later. Laine then loses control of the puck, but hustles on the back-check to retrieve it and ultimately clear the zone.
Second power play of the night, and this one is a doozy. Laine is heavily involved in the play and spends the entire man-advantage, and then some, with his linemates. They do everything but score. Laine fires a slapshot from 27 feet out that just misses, an absolutely rocket, then gets one on Bobrovsky a few seconds later from 34 feet out. A wrist shot later in the shift goes wide, with Connor just missing burying the subsequent rebound. Laine absorbs a hit by Foligno and is very active on the left side, trying to get open for a feed from Wheeler. Laine also does a great job retrieving a loose puck behind the Columbus net, then wins another puck battle near the blue line that draws a big roar from the crowd.
Laine comes out right after teammate Mason Appleton’s goal has tied it, and nearly helps the Jets take the lead as he feeds Roslovic with a slick pass. Roslovic tried to find Little for the one-timer, but Foligno makes a great diving play on his belly to break up a sure goal. Now Laine is caught, slow on the backcheck as the puck comes the other way and guilty of one of those lazy-looking fly-by stick checks as Oliver Bjorkstrand gets a puck in the slot and rips it past Connor Hellebuyck to give the visitors a 3-2 lead. Laine was at the end of a shift, so fatigue was clearly an issue, but he’s got to be stronger than that.
Coming out of a TV timeout, Laine breaks the puck out with a strong pass to Little, but Roslovic negates what might be a blossoming scoring chance by going offside.
The third period begins and Brandon Tanev is now on the line, taking the spot of Roslovic. Laine makes a nice play to skate the puck out of his end and hit centre, then dumps it in and gets a quick line change.
Laine tries to get a shot away that is blocked by Murray, after taking a nice pass from Tanev and weaving his way through traffic to create some potential offence. Laine also knocks down a clearing attempt later in the shift with a good stick.
The third power play of the game for the Jets, so Laine and the top unit come out. But they can’t get anything going, as Columbus clears the puck five times. To his credit, Laine was responsible for the one solid zone entry. Roslovic scores the tying goal goal later in the power play as the second unit proves to be more effective on this night.
Laine spends a fairly lengthy shift, along with his linemates, hemmed in their zone, with Columbus once again looking to regain the lead. Laine is slow to a puck up for grabs along the boards, allowing Columbus to keep the attack going.
After the Jets have just killed off a delay-of-game penalty, Laine gets a rare shift with Wheeler and Scheifele. But they can’t do much together on this occasion, as Laine loses a puck in the Columbus end. He does make a safe, smart play by taking a pass, making it to centre and dumping it in.
After just a 39-second rest, Laine is back out for his last shift of the game. He wins a puck battle behind his net with Bjorkstrand and leads a promising rush up the ice, using his big body to protect the puck. He fires a wrist shot that goes wide. Laine then is the first of his line to change, which proves to be a pivotal moment. Connor comes over the boards in his place, immediately takes a feed from Little and fires home the game-winning goal with just 1:14 to play.
So the Jets skated away with a win, and Laine can say he at least played a role in it. It was a marked improvement over the Boston effort, and something to at least build on.
Laine took 17 total shifts, for 16:22 minutes of ice time. That was fourth among all forwards. He had six shot attempts, second only to Blake Wheeler’s eight. Two were stopped by Bobrovsky, three missed the net and one was blocked.
Laine delivered two hits, had two giveaways and one takeaway. He didn’t register a point for a fourth straight outing. He has just two goals and two assists in his last 18 games, which is certainly concerning for a guy who scored 18 times in 12 games in November.
Baby steps, perhaps.
Let’s see if Laine can take it to another level tonight as the Jets host the Anaheim Ducks.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.