Record: 52 – 20 – 10
WASHINGTON — It’s a marquee matchup made in hockey heaven: Patrik Laine versus Alexander Ovechkin. Forty-goal scorer versus 40-goal scorer. Sophomore sniper versus the greatest shooter of his era. Finnish teen versus his childhood idol.
Yes, the eyes of the hockey world will no doubt be on the U.S. capital tonight as Winnipeg and Washington face-off in a game just dripping with juicy storylines.
Well, let us add one more to the mix: Is anybody on the Jets other than their teenage star going to start filling the net anytime soon? If you haven’t noticed, Winnipeg’s secondary scoring has all but disappeared.
Consider this: Winnipeg has scored 10 times in the first four games of this road trip, in which they’ve managed to go 3-1-0 largely due to the fact Laine is playing on another level right now plus they’ve only given up six goals in that span. Laine has scored seven of the goals, plus assisted on another. That means he’s been directly involved in 80 per cent of their offence.
Laine also scored two of Winnipeg’s four goals in their last home game, a 4-3 win over Detroit. That means he’s lit the lamp nine times in the past five games, while the rest of the lineup combined have just five goals in that stretch.
Rookie Jack Roslovic hasn’t scored in 14 games, although he has managed to chip in with seven assists. Mathieu Perreault hasn’t scored in nine games, and doesn’t even have an helper in that stretch. Veteran centre Bryan Little has also been blanked in his past nine, with just two assists.
Captain Blake Wheeler hasn’t scored in seven games despite having five assists. Kyle Connor is also in a seven-game goal scoring drought, with just one assist.
All of the above players are in Winnipeg’s top nine, logging big minutes. And yet they certainly haven’t been producing like it.
Throw in last week’s injury to No. 1 centre Mark Scheifele, plus the continued, prolonged absence of Adam Lowry, and you have the makings of a problem.
Laine, along with linemates Paul Stastny and Nikolaj Ehlers, have essentially been carrying the team offensively. And while that’s great for what might be the hottest line in the NHL right now, it makes them a potential one-trick pony for other teams to key on.
Winnipeg has been mostly excellent in one-goal games this year, showing an ability to hold leads in tight games. But as we saw Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, Laine can’t do it all. They lost 2-1 in a game where a contribution or two from anyone else might have put them over the top.
Coach Paul Maurice brought out the line blender midway through that game, shaking up the looks of every line except the Stastny-Laine-Ehlers trio.
"No," was his curt response when asked if he thought the changes worked.
So it must be asked: Has the rest of the team come to expect Laine to simply produce enough most games to put them over the top, to the detriment of their own production?
"I understand the question. But the NHL doesn’t work like that. Nobody has ever said I feel better now because I don’t have to score now because Patty will," Maurice told the Free Press following Saturday’s loss.
"We’ve got some different combinations, we’ve got a different kind of hockey being played now at this time of year. So a little harder to score, a little harder to get to those areas," he said. "We’ve got some other guys with 20-plus goals, a bunch of guys with 15 who haven’t scored a lot (lately)."
Despite all that, Maurice was quick to praise Laine for what he’s accomplished at such a young age. His next goal will put him third in NHL history for most goals scored by a teenager.
"Hitting the 40 mark but skating now. He looks so much different than he did a month ago. He’s a special young man, 19-years-old and still growing into his body. A really competitive guy, wants to score. He’s going to be a good Winnipeg Jet for a long time," said Maurice.
Perhaps rest and recovery might help spark something for the rest of the team.
The Jets cancelled their planned practice Sunday in Washington, opting to give everyone a day off the ice. There’s no question several players are banged up right now as the rigours of the regular-season take their toll. Not to mention a big of a bug that’s been making its way through the dressing room, mostly recently knocking Perreault for a loop and rendering him less than 100 per cent.
With 14 regular-season games left and then what they hope will be a long playoff run, the Jets are going to need all hands back on deck as soon as possible.
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.
Updated on Sunday, March 11, 2018 at 10:54 PM CDT: Edited