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Secondary scoring for the Winnipeg Jets has been a rare commodity.
The Jets have only scored eight goals in four games, with five of those coming in the season-opener in St. Louis (a 5-1 triumph over the Blues). The primary line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler has accounted for five of the eight.
Patrik Laine scored a power-play goal on his first shot of the season but has been silent in his past three games, while Nikolaj Ehlers is pointless early in 2018-19 NHL campaign. The Winnipeg Jets’ much-maligned second line, with Bryan Little up the middle, needs to start creating sustained pressure in the offensive zone before goals start coming from its two talented wingers.
While entirely apparent to the organization and its supporters, head coach Paul Maurice reiterated the point following Saturday’s morning practice at Bell MTS Place. The Jets are preparing to face the Carolina Hurricanes today at 6 p.m. It’s the first of six consecutive games at the downtown arena.
“The key piece is have to get a certain amount of time — it can’t be strictly a rush game — you have to get a certain amount of time in the offensive zone, and then you have to create enough confusion in the offensive zone that the reads become more difficult,” Maurice said.
“Patty’s a big fellow that can get it off his stick real quick, but Nikky has to do that differently. Brian’s challenge is to read off the two of them, because they have unique styles of games, so offensive-zone time is part of the place that we’re looking for them to start in that process of scoring some goals.”
Any opportunity for the trio to generate some positive results Thursday in Nashville was, for the most part, sabotaged internally as the Jets took a pile of minor penalties and faced nine short-handed situations. Under tremendous duress, the penalty-killing unit snuffed out each and every Predators power play.
Ultimately, the Jets (2-2-0) dropped a 3-0 decision to their Central Division rivals at Bridgestone Arena.
While the flow of the contest was hindered considerably, Ehlers demonstrated his high gear through the neutral zone during rare five-on-five situations and unleashed a couple of good shots on goalie Pekka Rinne.
“I liked (Ehlers’) style of play in the game in Nashville. I think the line was better, but again, it wasn’t a big enough body of work there to get overly excited,” Maurice said. “But he was back on the puck… he was in the game and on pucks and involved in the game, and he showed a level quickness and compete that we think he can improve on.”
Laine, meanwhile, tested his fellow Finnish countryman just once.
“I don’t think we’ve created any scoring chances yet, so hopefully it will be better. That’s kind of the key. We’re not supporting (each other) in the O-zone,” Laine said. “We’re kind of all around the zone. We can’t help each other with and without the puck, and that’s something we need to do better.”
A year ago, en route to a 44-goal season, Laine had a pair of goals after four contests and four markers at the 11-game mark before scoring in five straight. As other young stars like Toronto’s Auston Matthews (9), Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson (4) and Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat (4) fill the net, Laine said he’s not consumed by keeping pace.
“Yeah, it would be fun to score, for sure. Like you said, team first and we need to be better as a team, and I need to be better as a player. It’s my job to help the team to win. If I can score, that’s good. But if I can’t and we’re still winning, I’m still fine.”
Just as practice began, Maurice stood near centre ice and had a quick meeting with Laine and his linemates. The message?
“Just work hard and keep supporting us on the ice. We haven’t done that, so we’ve got to start doing that. That was kind of it,” Laine said. “Just trying to get some chemistry. When we see the play, we can make the play. We don’t have to force it. We’ve got to play simple. We’re good players and we can still make plays, but we’ve got to keep things simple.”
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).