July 18, 2019

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Opinion

No pain, no gain

Jets head coach not ready to shuffle lines to get Patrik Laine out of his scoring slump

<p>Winnipeg Jets' Patrik Laine listens to head coach Paul Maurice at practice. The Jets bench boss thinks the young sniper needs to "go through this process" and figure out his scoring woes on his own.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets' Patrik Laine listens to head coach Paul Maurice at practice. The Jets bench boss thinks the young sniper needs to "go through this process" and figure out his scoring woes on his own.

OTTAWA -- So, Paul Maurice. Your team just got embarrassed on the road, your top line got caved in and your superstar sniper is still stuck in the worst slump of his life.

Maybe it’s time to try a little outside the box thinking and change things up? I mean, what’s the worst thing that could happen?

I put the suggestion to the Winnipeg Jets bench boss Friday afternoon during his team’s optional practice here in the nation’s capital, figuring maybe Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler could use the change of scenery as much as Patrik Laine could after what can only be described as a rough day at the office.

As a sports columnist, I’d apparently make a lousy coach. Because Maurice rejected the idea pretty much as soon as it left my mouth, drawing on a very small sample size of work that he’s seen from the trio over the past two and-a-half seasons.

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OTTAWA — So, Paul Maurice. Your team just got embarrassed on the road, your top line got caved in and your superstar sniper is still stuck in the worst slump of his life.

Maybe it’s time to try a little outside the box thinking and change things up? I mean, what’s the worst thing that could happen?

I put the suggestion to the Winnipeg Jets bench boss Friday afternoon during his team’s optional practice here in the nation’s capital, figuring maybe Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler could use the change of scenery as much as Patrik Laine could after what can only be described as a rough day at the office.

As a sports columnist, I’d apparently make a lousy coach. Because Maurice rejected the idea pretty much as soon as it left my mouth, drawing on a very small sample size of work that he’s seen from the trio over the past two and-a-half seasons.

"The numbers don’t look good when they play together," the veteran of now 1,502 regular-season games and counting told me, referring to the internal analytics the team tracks.

Translation: McIntyre, you dummy. Don’t you know anything?!

"We are doing two things on our team. We’re trying to win and develop at the same time. Mark and Blake draw the ‘A’ units from the other team. So we’ve got to respect that," Maurice added.

Translation: McIntyre, you idiot. That would only make things worse!

But would it really? The numbers sure didn’t look very good Thursday night, when the Jets gave up a season-high 53 shots and were pounded 5-2 by Montreal in a score that absolutely flattered the visitors. The Canadiens would have been toying with double-digits had Connor Hellebuyck not stood on his head most of the night.

Maurice described his team’s performance as "horses—-t."

While I may not be qualified to work behind an NHL bench, I do know a mess when I see one. And what was served up Thursday night at the Bell Centre was, indeed, a big ol’ heaping of animal excrement.

It would be unfair to pin this all on the top line, but it’s worth noting Wheeler and Connor had a birds-eye view of four of the Montreal goals, considering they were on the ice at the time the red light went on. Scheifele was on with them for three.

Montreal’s top line had a field day against them, with Jonathan Drouin, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher combining for 10 points and a plus-11 rating. Truth be told, they’ve had a few rough outings as of late, perhaps a sign of fatigue given that Scheifele and Wheeler are both leaned on heavily and among the NHL leaders in average ice time among forwards.

Laine, meanwhile, had three shots on goal and five shot attempts. But he’s now gone nine games since his last goal and has just one in his last 16. With Bryan Little as his centre and pal Nikolaj Ehlers out of the lineup for the past month with injury, there’s just not a lot happening these days when Laine is out there.

He’s even been demoted from the top power play unit, which certainly isn’t going to help restore his already fragile confidence or improve his chances of breaking the drought. Jack Roslovic has taken his place, leaving Laine on the second unit that barely sees the ice.

It feels like the team’s best potential weapon is being wasted right now. And, I would argue, not exactly being put in the best position to succeed.

Maurice is on record as saying the left-wing spot with Scheifele and Wheeler is the most coveted on the team, one that almost surely produces results and every player would love to occupy. It’s working well for Connor, and it helped get Ehlers going earlier this season before he got hurt.

Why not Laine then, who has only played a couple of periods all season with that duo? I pressed Maurice a bit further on the issue, and it led to some interesting insight into the coach’s mindset, especially towards young players.

"So I don’t want to move too too much around when you’re presently in first in the Central, to try and get a player going. I want him to go through this process. To feel what the pressure’s like when things don’t go well. To develop a tool box," Maurice replied.

Translation: No pain, no gain.

And there’s the rub. Winning can mask a lot of issues, and you can’t dispute the Jets have been piling up the points this season, even if it doesn’t always look pretty. He explained how that seems to have worked well for Hellebuyck, who was given some tough love treatment a couple years ago only to bounce-back last season with a Vezina Trophy nomination.

"The struggles, the adversity, aren’t something you need as a coach to try and fix right away. If you’re in a playoff series, you’ve got to make those adjustments really fast. Get the guys going out there, make your adjustment. Right now we want to be a little patient, let some players find their way," said Maurice.

As for Scheifele and Wheeler, Maurice apparently doesn’t share any concerns about their recent play.

"This was an entire group effort (Thursday) night. We dealt with it, is the best way I can say. But one game doesn’t take away the other 53 or whatever the number we’d say is some really fine hockey by our leaders. So there’s no panicked meeting today, grabbing those two guys and saying ‘Hey, you can’t have a night like last night.’ That’s not their best, clearly, but they were equal amongst their peers," said Maurice.

And so the status quo, it seems, is here to stay. I tried, folks. I really tried.

Translation: McIntyre, stick to your day job!

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

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.

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