Laine, Connor trade places on top two lines against Leafs

Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine is expected to start tonight’s much-ballyhooed showdown against the Toronto Maple Leafs on a line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler at Bell MTS Place.

It’ll be an early 6 p.m. start with the game being shown nationally on Sportsnet and across the United States on NBCSN.

The Finnish scoring ace was moved to Scheifele’s line at the beginning of the third period for the Jets’ home game against the St. Louis Blues Monday night. Winnipeg rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the third to win 5-4 in overtime.

“Patty’s a big body and he moves really well,” Wheeler said following the team’s optional morning skate. “I thought in the third period last game, we spent a lot of time in the offensive zone. I think all three of us were determined to do the right things, use the back of the net.

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Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine is expected to start tonight’s much-ballyhooed showdown against the Toronto Maple Leafs on a line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler at Bell MTS Place.

It’ll be an early 6 p.m. start with the game being shown nationally on Sportsnet and across the United States on NBCSN.

Patrik Laine's promotion to the top line with Mark Scheifele (55) and Blake Wheeler (26), will mean Kyle Connor (81) moves onto the second unit. (Trevor Hagan / Free Press files)</p></p>

Patrik Laine’s promotion to the top line with Mark Scheifele (55) and Blake Wheeler (26), will mean Kyle Connor (81) moves onto the second unit. (Trevor Hagan / Free Press files)

The Finnish scoring ace was moved to Scheifele’s line at the beginning of the third period for the Jets’ home game against the St. Louis Blues Monday night. Winnipeg rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the third to win 5-4 in overtime.

“Patty’s a big body and he moves really well,” Wheeler said following the team’s optional morning skate. “I thought in the third period last game, we spent a lot of time in the offensive zone. I think all three of us were determined to do the right things, use the back of the net.

“We can be tough to play against when all three of us are protecting the puck and moving our feet so, we did some good things and had some good looks. Hopefully we can build off that.”

Laine’s promotion to the top line meant Kyle Connor moved onto the second unit with Bryan Little and Nikolaj Ehlers.

“We were just hard on the puck,” Scheifele said. “We were on the forecheck, we didn’t give their D a lot of time and got some pucks to the net, and that created some offence for us. We want to look to do that against tonight.”

Added Wheeler: “What a luxury is it to have that calibre of guys on our team. We have a number of guys that are incredibly talented offensively. I think (he and Scheifele have) built a real good foundation over the last handful of years. Like I said, we’re lucky to have guys that can step in and give different looks and refresh things a little bit. At different points in the year you’re going to need those things to keep guys fresh and show different things.”

Winnipeg (6-2-1, third in Central) will play Toronto (6-3-0, second in Atlantic) for the first time since the Maple Leafs signed marquee free-agent centre John Tavares in the off-season.

“Obviously a very dynamic player,” Wheeler said of Tavares. “They have a really skilled group up front and it makes them pretty deep offensively…. If you allow them to have time and space with the puck, it’s gonna be tough.”

Wheeler was asked if a national American TV audience added anything to tonight’s game, which will be the first time NBCSN has broadcast an all-Canadian matchup as it’s Wednesday Night Hockey game of the week.

“NBC’s in the house, huh?” he quipped. “It only took them eight years to come to Winnipeg. No, these games have always had a bit of a buzz about them, especially in Winnipeg. I think there were a lot of Maple Leafs fans when the original Jets left, and so it’s always a good atmosphere in the building.”

Jets head coach Paul Maurice has made one lineup change, inserting Dmitry Kulikov on the third defensive pairing with Tyler Myers; Joe Morrow will watch the game in street clothes.

Connor Hellebuyck will get the start in net and Toronto is expected to counter with Frederik Andersen.

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

Read full biography