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This article was published 1/12/2017 (624 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Patrik Laine had been stuck in a cycle of limited production and playing time. On Friday, he made good on a promise to break out of his slump.
The 19-year-old Jets right-winger assisted on Kyle Connor’s go-ahead marker 33 seconds into the third period and added his 12th goal of the season on a wicked 40-foot wrister at 2:48 to give Winnipeg a 4-2 lead over the Vegas Golden Knights. Both goals came on Winnipeg’s deadly power play.
Less than four minutes later, Laine added another primary assist on Nikolaj Ehlers’ goal as the Jets rolled to a 7-4 victory.
Laine saw just 13:37 of ice time in Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Avs in Denver — his second-lowest total of the season. The only lower total came on Nov. 22 when he played 12:44 in Los Angeles against the Kings. Laine was under 15 minutes in six of Winnipeg’s seven games prior to Friday’s game and was brutally self-critical when he spoke to reporters at the pre-game skate.
"I’m only doing that because I know I wasn’t playing really well," said Laine. I’m not lying to you guys when you’re asking about it. That was a good game so I’m happy.
"We were playing really well as a line for two periods but didn’t get rewarded even though we had some great chances. Our power play was really good in the third period. Nicky got a huge goal. It wasn’t a very good pass from me but he’s a great scorer and he can score on that."
Against the Knights, he registered 16:23 on the ice, including 5:29 on the power play, while leading the Jets with five shots on net.
Laine averaged 17:55 on ice during his rookie season and was down to 16:22 in the first 25 games of 2017-18. What’s more, he has only two goals and three points in his previous seven games and spent much of the third period Wednesday on the bench.
"Last game for me was tough," Laine said Friday morning. "I wasn’t on my game and I was playing pretty bad, so that’s why probably I didn’t play much. Hopefully it’s a better night tonight, and if it’s up to me, it’s going to be a good night."
The young Finn admitted he’s had conversations with head coach Paul Maurice about improvements he needs to make.
"He wants me to do certain things and I’m definitely going to do those things and try to improve my game and earn those minutes back for sure," he said, adding he’s having trouble keeping up with the speed of the NHL this year.
"My confidence is not up again, but I just try to work hard every shift. It doesn’t matter what your confidence level is; just try to work hard and do those simple things on the ice."
Maurice, meanwhile, preferred to keep his critique of Laine out of the public realm.
"It has nothing to do with Patty’s game," Maurice said when asked to explain the dwindling ice time. "It has to do with everybody’s ice time. Running those four lines over that last little bit, it’s part of the reason we’ve stayed healthy and played a pretty good game.
"The (Bryan) Little line has probably come off their numbers more than anybody from last year because the (Adam) Lowry line has an identity that I’ll use against the other teams’ best if I don’t get the (Mark) Scheifele line out there. And you can’t keep the (Matt) Hendricks line on the bench, because they’ve been too hot."
After watching Laine's three-point effort against Vegas, did Maurice believe his star sniper gets extra motivation by being tough on himself in public?
"In truth, I just think he’s incredibly honest," said Maurice. "Now, I don’t necessarily agree with his assessment. He’s very hard on himself. I’ve got more room and time and patience for his game but I think he’s really honest and he feels that’s the way he’s playing. If he’s not scoring, he feels like he’s not doing anything to help the team and it bothers him.
"He’s a very bright kid but he’s not overly filtered when it comes to the media. I think he tells you exactly how he’s feeling. If you’d have asked him the question two games earlier, he would’ve probably said the same thing."
Earlier, Ehlers discounted the sophomore slump theory.
"Everybody keeps saying the second year is the toughest year," Ehlers said. "I honestly did not (find it that way). You go through some stuff, but you’ll be doing that for the rest of your career, and he’s going through something right now. You want to call that the second year, or not playing as well as he wants to. Our line has been better over the last five games."
Ehlers believed his teammate's woes were a blip in a long season.
"It’s hard to explain," he said. "He’s a great hockey player. Maybe he’s not playing as well as he wants to right now. But as soon as he starts playing the simple, the fast game, getting pucks to the net, he’ll turn that around quick."
Updated on Friday, December 1, 2017 at 11:06 PM CST: updates story