Record: 52 – 20 – 10
Picture, if you will, a group of the NHL’s best goaltenders, all seated in a circle in the same room. In the middle sits a television set, playing a montage of Patrik Laine goals on an endless loop.
They’re here to relive their nightmares, and to offer up support for each other.
"I thought I had the angle cut down," one says. He instinctively turns his head, looks behind him and reaches for his water bottle, his shoulders sagging in defeat.
"Me too. There was absolutely no room for him to shoot that puck. No room," another says, his voice trailing off.
This scenario is, of course, pure fiction. But you can almost envision it, given the trail of damage the Winnipeg Jets forward is leaving in his wake these days.
Game after game, city after city, goalie after goalie, there appears to be a collective frustration and amazement at what the 19-year-old sophomore Finnish sniper is doing.
We take you back to the Big Apple last week, where one of the greatest netminders of his generation had just watched Laine score every goal in a 3-0 Winnipeg Jets win over the New York Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist was beaten, cleanly, twice. The third goal was into an empty net — which is what Laine must feel like he’s looking at every time he’s shot the puck lately.
"Henrik, you face hundreds of players a year. What specifically about Patrik Laine stands out to you in trying to defend his shot?" one local scribe asked following the game. What followed was a fantastic analysis from the future Hockey Hall of Famer.
"Well, there’s a few players in the league that have a certain shot where they make you believe one thing but they do something different," Lundqvist said, pausing to shake his head at times. "When you leave one of the best shooters with no pressure, he’s going to pick you apart a little bit."
Keep in mind this isn’t some Saturday night beer-league goalie talking about being "picked apart." This is The King, winner of 430 of his 800 career NHL games.
"Twice he made me believe he was going glove. And he kind of had that late (move) where he lays over his hands to go blocker side instead," he said. "It was just wrong player, wrong place. He’s good. You gotta give it to him. He has that delay where he comes in when everybody’s low and nobody can step up on him. He reads it well."
Goalies are often the best at reading the play, and Lundqvist appeared in awe of how deceptive Laine can be. After all, he’s not surprising anyone. And nobody is going to confuse him for Jets teammate Nikolaj Ehlers in terms of raw speed. But Laine continues to find himself open — as he did Monday night in Washington against the Capitals, when he tied it up in the third period.
"I guess I’m so invisible in front of the net that nobody saw me," Laine said with his tongue in his cheek following the game.
Lundqvist said defending Laine is not as easy as some might think.
"He has a second way where, you know, usually he’s not the puck carrier. Someone else is coming in and pulls us back and we’re kind of deep in our zone. And then he comes in and everybody’s stuck. So he just walks in and picks his corner," Lundqvist said. "He uses his hands to kind of fake left, going right. I should know it. I kinda knew it. But he’s just a good shooter. You gotta give him credit."
Just two days later, the Free Press caught up with New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider following the morning skate. Laine, of course, would rip home the opening goal of the game early in the first period that night in an eventual one-goal Jets win. Once again, he was left all alone in the slot and made no mistake.
"Probably one of the best releases in the league. You’ve got to be aware of where he is at all times. Not cheat on him at all, make sure if he’s got the puck on his stick you have to play the shot," Schneider said. "You know, even then, he still might beat you."
Schneider added it takes a group effort to try to contain a threat such as Laine, but even that isn’t always enough.
There’s probably no goalie in the league who knows Laine better than Connor Hellebuyck. After all, the Jets netminder faces him on a daily basis. We asked him last week during the road trip how glad he is that Laine is on his team, not staring him down on a regular basis in games.
"Yeah, but I’m stopping them all day long in practice. You gotta ask him his secrets ’cuz I think I’ve figured him out," Winnipeg’s all-star goaltender joked in response.
At least we think he was joking. Of course, we have asked Laine what he’s doing to make so many good goalies look foolish.
"Just pure luck, I guess. I don’t know, man. That’s a good question. It’s kind of a secret, so I don’t want everybody to know that," the sniper said following his hat trick at Madison Square Garden.
More secrets. Which, we suppose, is good news for the Jets, and bad news for the rest of the league.
As the Laine tour reached the U.S. capital Monday night, the latest horde of media asked Jets head coach Paul Maurice if Laine had exceeded his expectations.
"Well yeah, man, he’s 19," Maurice said, almost incredulously. "He had 36 last year. Don’t know where he’s going to get to this year. There just aren’t very many men like this in the history of our game. We had another one on the other team, (Alex Ovechkin), which is a rarity. (Laine’s) been fantastic."
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.