SUNRISE, Fla. — Patrik Laine is having trouble finding the net but he’s making goal scoring look easy for a few of his teammates.
Winnipeg’s most dangerous shooter over the last three NHL seasons has become the Jets’ premier playmaker — at least during the first quarter of the 2019-20 campaign. The young Finn demonstrated his passing prowess again Thursday night, setting up three goals as the visitors earned a 4-3 victory over the Florida Panthers.
It was the first of four straight on the road for the Jets, who are now 11-8-1 and have posted six wins away from home against just three defeats.
His finest dish? A no-look, backhand pass across the top of the crease to centre Mark Scheifele, who was left with nothing but a gaping cage for his eighth goal of the season to snap a 2-2 tie with 5:08 left in the third period.
Adam Lowry’s second of the year on a deflection with just under three minutes remaining upped the lead to 4-2 and proved massive, as Panthers centre Vincent Trocheck scored his second goal of the game with just 1:34 left to cut the lead.
Laine also fed Nikolaj Ehlers in the second period for his eighth tally, tying Scheifele for the team lead, and had a secondary assist on Josh Morrissey’s game opening-goal early in the first — the 200th NHL point of Laine’s career.
"It doesn’t matter if I score or if somebody else scores. Tonight, I was kind of a playmaker and had some good plays with my linemates. Three big goals for the team, so we’ve got to be satisfied," said Laine, who has scored just four goals through 20 games but has assisted on a team-high 14 others.
The NHL’s second-overall pick in the 2016 draft said he knew Scheifele was ready and waiting for the pass.
"I told him that I didn’t even see him, I was just hoping he was going to be there," Laine joked. "I’m not going to look like an idiot and just pass it to nobody. No, I saw him. I took a quick look before I got the puck and he was there, with his stick ready. I just tried to get it to him and he had an open net. It was a pretty important goal."
The Jets demonstrated once again their ability to survive in close games and stow away points. Eight of their 11 triumphs have been by one goal, although they’ve also benefited greatly from four overtime wins and two more in shootouts.
Trocheck scored twice for the Panthers in the third period, his first coming after an ugly giveaway by Kyle Connor, and his second coming with just 1:34 left and veteran netminder Sergei Bobrovsky on the bench for an extra skater. But Lowry won two key defensive faceoffs and the Jets didn’t allow a single shot after their lead was shaved to one.
"For us, this year it’s committing to defence, regardless of the different personnel we have this year," said Morrissey. "We’ve really worked on that and it’s really started to come for us. But also having the confidence to play in those games and be up one or down and feel like you’re still there. It’s been really positive for us.
"They did a good job of coming back on us twice but I don’t think we really changed our game. If anything, we all got right back on the gas pedal and continued to play. That was huge for us."
The Panthers peppered Winnipeg backup goalie Laurent Brossoit with 37 shots but beat him just three times, including a second-period goal by Aleksander Barkov. Bobrovsky stopped 26 shots for the hosts.
Scheifele also had a three-point night while Connor chipped in an assist, not a bad way to begin a nine-day road trip for Winnipeg’s top trio.
"Yeah, we felt good. We made a lot of nice plays. We worked together really well, which is huge," said Scheifele, noting Laine’s vision in the danger zones. "I think that’s awesome to see. He’s such a dangerous shooter. He goes to the right spot. When you have a dangerous shot like that and he’s looking for a pass, I think it shows his game is growing.
"He’s looking for it, but he’s always in the right spots, which was my biggest take out of his game. He was always in the right spot and that led to offence."
Scheifele and Blake Wheeler were split up following the head injury to Bryan Little on Nov. 5, and the team is 3-1-1 since the captain’s move to centre the second line with Ehlers and Jack Roslovic.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice said he’s liked the chemistry developing between Scheifele, Laine and Connor.
"They’ve been close to that for a couple of games. We’ve liked them and now they’re starting to get into a rhythm. I’m starting to give that line a little bit more room for some passes. (Laine) tried to hit (Scheifele) on the backdoor, everybody is used to seeing (Laine) shoot all of these pucks. It was the right play, but they’re just starting to get in sync and just figure out the ones they should shoot and the ones they should pass," he said.
Winnipeg didn’t draw a single penalty, often a sign that the legs are stuck in the muck. But despite a sluggish first frame, the Central Division’s third-place team upped its tempo after the Morrissey goal at 3:45 of the second and maintained a quick pace and a heavy forecheck.
Lowry and wingers Andrew Copp and Mathieu Perreault were particularly dogged and were justly rewarded with what turned out to be the deciding goal.
The Jets will play the second game of their four-game road trip Saturday afternoon against the Lightning at Amalie Arena. Game time is 3 p.m.
It’s part of a three-week stretch that has the Jets away from home for eight of 10 games.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
Updated on Thursday, November 14, 2019 at 8:49 PM CST: Adds photos
11:37 PM: Full write through final version.