May 24, 2018

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Snipers at different stages of career

Laine, Ovechkin taking notice of each other's on-ice talent

One is a no-doubt Hall of Famer, the most feared pure goal scorer of his generation. The other is a budding young sniper who shares many of the same traits as the player he’s grown up idolizing.

And there they were Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place, going head to head for just the third time.

“It’s always exciting to play against one of the best players in the league. It’s always fun,” wide-eyed Jets winger Patrik Laine said following the morning skate about lining up against the Washngton Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin.

Heading into the game, Ovechkin, 32, was in his typical spot on top of the NHL goal-scoring race with 33 in 55 games. He’s already matched his total from last season and is on pace for his eighth 50-goal campaign. And he was only nine goals away from hitting 600 for his career.

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One is a no-doubt Hall of Famer, the most feared pure goal scorer of his generation. The other is a budding young sniper who shares many of the same traits as the player he’s grown up idolizing.

And there they were Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place, going head to head for just the third time.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin during first period against the Winnipeg Jets in Winnipeg on Tuesday.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin during first period against the Winnipeg Jets in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

"It’s always exciting to play against one of the best players in the league. It’s always fun," wide-eyed Jets winger Patrik Laine said following the morning skate about lining up against the Washngton Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin.

Heading into the game, Ovechkin, 32, was in his typical spot on top of the NHL goal-scoring race with 33 in 55 games. He’s already matched his total from last season and is on pace for his eighth 50-goal campaign. And he was only nine goals away from hitting 600 for his career.

Laine, 19, was up to 25 this season after putting up 36 in his rookie campaign, which included two games against the Capitals last season where he was held off the scoreboard. The flashy Finn admits he continues to study tape of Ovechkin, just as he did as a kid growing up dreaming of playing in the NHL.

Meither player scored Tuesday, though Ovechkin had an assist.

"I’ve watched a lot of games. He’s doing well, it’s nice to see that he’s scoring so many goals," Laine said. "For me, I’m trying to still learn what I can do better, how I can be better, especially on the power play."

Ovechkin made it clear Tuesday there is mutual admiration between the two players.

"I think he’s got a pretty good shot," Ovechkin said with a pause, followed by a wry smile. "Obviously. Especially on the power play. Everybody knows he’s a good player, a good talent."

Ovechkin had a humorous take on hearing Laine grew up studying him.

"I was the guy who was watching video of different players and wanted to be like (Mario) Lemieux and (Jarome) Iginla. It’s pretty cool when you hear from young guys who come in the league. But it kinda sucks because you get old. But it’s life," Ovechkin said.

Many of Laine’s goals have come from the so-called Ovechkin spot on the left side of the ice, where the right-shooting winger sets up for the one-timer. In that sense, Jets head coach Paul Maurice admits there are similarities between the two.

"Over Ovechkin’s time in the league, there are a number of times where you wonder how he made that shot. And that’s the same with Patrik, right? How does he beat a guy from there when it’s clean, he sees it coming?" Maurice asked. "So its an undefinable release, you’re not sure when it’s coming off, you can’t understand how it comes off that hard, and it’s so darn accurate. Very similar in the results and how they shoot the puck."

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Jets’ Patrik Laine during first period NHL action against the Washington Capitals in Winnipeg on Tuesday.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets’ Patrik Laine during first period NHL action against the Washington Capitals in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

It’s that trait that makes players such as Ovechkin as rare as they are and difficult to contain.

"We wouldn’t have the answer to that, certainly as a coachable skill, because we’d all be doing that," Maurice said of how to try to shut down Ovechkin. "He’s just that good. You can cover him, you can get in that shooting lane, but the number of goals that he scores where there’s somebody in the lane just as often as there isn’t and he’s by it and just inside the bar. He’s that kind of player. You’ve got to stay out of the penalty box against Washington to take away a weapon."

Laine said he’s always been impressed by how physical Ovechkin plays, which is something he’s also trying to emulate in addition to lighting the lamp with frequency.

"If I have a chance to hit, I’m gonna hit. I don’t have to think about it, I think that’s part of my game and I think that’s a good way to get inside the game," he said.

Ovechkin says he doesn’t get to see much of Laine in action, especially with the clubs only playing twice a year, but believes he’ll be a force for years to come.

"I don’t watch lots of hockey when I have free time. But I know he has that skill, he can use his shot, he’s big, strong guy, obviously when you’re big and strong and you have skill, it’s pretty cool," Ovechkin said.

INJURY UPDATE: Winnipeg’s lengthy injury list could soon be getting shorter. Maurice said forward Brendan Lemieux is good to go after taking part in Tuesday’s morning skate. Forwards Brandon Tanev and Shawn Matthias, along with goalie Michael Hutchinson, all skated on their own Tuesday. Tanev and Hutchinson are the closest to returning, with Matthias just behind them, Maurice said. Goalie Steve Mason is currently skating on alternate days, on his own, as he attempts to recover from his second concussion of the season. Centre Adam Lowry has not resumed skating following his latest injury and no timetable for a return is set. Defenceman Jacob Trouba is still several weeks away from skating after suffering an ankle injury late last month.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Read more by Mike McIntyre .

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