WINNIPEG – After a saintly start to his NHL career, Patrik Laine has been dealing with his first scoring slump.
But on a breathless rush down the wing, Laine unleashed his patented lethal wrister past Corey Schneider, and it held up as the winner in Winnipeg’s 3-2 win over the visiting New Jersey Devils.
The goal was just Laine’s second in his last 11 games, but it was also his 13th of the season, pulling him into a tie for second in the NHL with teammate Mark Scheifele, who also scored in the game.
“People told me in the second intermission, ‘You should try blocker,'” Laine explained. “It was my first shot to the blocker, and right away it goes in. I wanted that. It was just an amazing feeling to get that goal again, nice to score and it was game-winning goal, so it was huge.”
The first period was a dull one, but it changed the outlook of the game. Marko Dano got a stick to the face (no penalty was called), forcing the winger to miss the rest of the game. Coach Paul Maurice said after the game that Dano was cut near the eye but his eyeball should be fine.
It was in the second period that the Jets roared to life. It started with a long 5-on-3 in which the Jets didn’t score but squarely hit the iron twice.
Over halfway through the frame, Scheifele banged home a rebound after some nifty puck work from Nikolaj Ehlers to open the scoring. Just over two minutes later, Blake Wheeler pounced on a big rebound to make it 2-0.
The Jets outshot the Devils 16-7 in the second, but it wouldn’t take long for New Jersey to bounce back. Miles Wood’s first NHL goal came from a bad angle near the goal line, snapping Connor Hellebuyck’s home shutout streak at 174:55.
Laine’s goal came less than two minutes later to make it 3-1. The Devils would close the gap but were unable to rally all the way back.
Back to Marko Dano’s injury: it meant a sudden increase in minutes for Bryan Little, playing in his first game since getting hurt early in the Jets’ season opener. He wound up playing 20:09 but didn’t have his best night in the face-off dot, winning 10 but losing 15.
All things considered, though, Little gave the Jets everything they could have hoped for in his return.
“First few shifts, I felt like I just let all my energy out. It was built up, I was really excited and anxious to get playing,” Little said. “I started to get more tired as the game went on, I didn’t think I’d play as much as I did tonight but we were a man down. Just getting back into the routine, having a nap, pregame skating, being around the guys, it was definitely nice.”
Little’s teammates concurred that his presence gave the team a huge lift.
“I thought he was excellent. Better than I expected. He was flyin’ tonight, so it’s pretty exciting to have him back in the lineup,” Wheeler said.
Added Scheifele, “I think that first shift, everyone was like, ‘Oh, he’s back to normal.’ He’s a huge help to our lineup and he’s only going to get more and more comfortable. That’s definitely good for us.”
Hellebuyck finished with 23 saves for his ninth win of the season while Schneider picked up the loss making 26 saves.
The Jets will finish their three-game home-stand Thursday night against the exciting Edmonton Oilers. Puck drop at MTS Centre is 7 p.m.