Patrik Laine is accustomed to scoring highlight-reel goals but Tuesday night’s breakaway special against the Detroit Red Wings was something completely different.
Taking a neutral-zone feed from centre Mark Scheifele and tearing through the heart of the Detroit defence like a runaway freight train, Laine turned Wings blue-liner Dennis Cholowski inside out before freezing goaltender Eric Comrie and depositing the puck in the net.
Look at those moves!
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) December 11, 2019
It looked easy but it came with some premeditation.
“Scheif did a good job winning the draw,” Laine said Wednesday before the Jets departed for Detroit and Thursday’s return matchup with the Wings. “After that our plan was kind of put one guy a little bit higher and then he would bump it back to somebody who has a ton of speed.
“Now I was the guy who, I never had a ton of speed, I’m not the fastest guy, but average amount of speed, and I had a pretty good chance to challenge that guy one-on-one. And just tried to go outside-inside and it worked.”
Laine was asked if breakaways might become a staple in his game.
“It’s probably my first or second breakaway in four years, so not really,” he said. “I haven’t really had too much time to work on those moves. I consider myself as a pretty good breakaway player. I have some moves, like you saw yesterday. But probably going to get the next one in four years.”
“Now I was the guy who, I never had a ton of speed, I’m not the fastest guy, but average amount of speed, and I had a pretty good chance to challenge that guy one-on-one. And just tried to go outside-inside and it worked.” – Patrik Laine
Laine’s answer was self-deprecating but Jets head coach Paul Maurice sees the possibilities as the 21-year-old Finn continues to develop his game.
“As he gets stronger he gets faster and he’s gonna be able to do that more often,” Maurice said. “We’ve talked in the past – I have no problem with him trying that – it’s all based on the speed that he’s carrying. It’s tough to pull off when you haven’t built speed through the neutral zone and it’s also tough to pull off from one end to the other, because by that time the defenceman has matched your speed, he’s got a cadence on you.
“Off a neutral-zone transition, you’re carrying more speed than a defender is — absolutely, he’s got the green light to try it.
In his fourth NHL season, Laine has an unusual stat line: nine goals, 20 assists and a plus-7 rating. In three previous years, he’s never registered more assists than goals. Did he see that coming?
“I did,” said Laine. “I think I’ve always been a good passer. But the last three years every time I get the puck I’m just thinking ‘shot.’ And now I’m playing with two elite scorers (Scheifele and Kyle Connor) as well, so they’re going to be open eventually. So I’ll try to find them, too, so they’re not gonna hate me out there. So, yeah, I think that’s been the difference.”
He’s also coming off a minus-24 campaign.
“It was kind of a tough stretch on a winning team last year being minus-24,” said Laine. “And a playoff team. That’s not very good. Obviously there’s some mistakes, too. But there were some unlucky bounces quite a bit. And six-on-five empty-netters, quite a bit. That’s just the way it is sometimes.
“This year I’ve been defensively more responsible, and played some good hockey with my linemates as well. So that helps.”
With experience and an adjustment in thinking, Laine is certain his defensive play has improved even though his first-line minutes on Scheifele’s line mean he also often facing off against an opponent’s top trio.
“I think I’m way better than last year,” said Laine. “Last year I was just maybe more thinking about offence. This year focusing more on defence, because that’s the way I’m gonna earn more ice time, if I play good defence. Because I’m not a liability out there and the opponent is not always going to score against us. So that’s the way I’m gonna earn more ice time.”
Maurice agrees, but takes the analysis one step further.
“Part of it is you defend when you don’t have the puck in all three zones and maybe it’s a function of coming through the system on the big (international) ice — those forecheckers, a lot of times, will anticipate where they think they puck is going and really not pressure the puck carrier,” he said.
“That’s a hard thing to take out of your game, which would have been true of (Nick Ehlers) and really a lot of the young guys who are cheatin’ on where they think the puck goes.
“These defencemen just look you off and then you’re out of position and we have no pressure on the puck. So his defensive game has improved in all three zones and I think some of it is just years in the league.”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
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