The Winnipeg Jets fell short against the Minnesota Wild Thursday and it was indicative of how things have gone this season. Win some, lose some.
The Jets are a respectable 27-14-2 right now, good for second in the Central Division. They’re two points behind the Nashville Predators for the division title and a full six points ahead of the Dallas Stars. They’ve got a good goal differential at plus-25 and have scored a decent 148 goals, not as many as Colorado but more than the Predators.
Still, it’s hard to shake the idea that something’s missing. It’s hard to find a team identity at this point, especially when it comes to some underperforming would-be stars.
Sure, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler will probably post career-best seasons. The 25-year-old from Kitchener has 54 points in 43 games, which is an incredible scoring pace. And Wheeler has 55 points in 43 games, including a monstrous 48 assists. He had 68 assists in all of last season. Against the Wild on Thursday, Wheeler played over 25 minutes and Scheifele played over 26 minutes.
But then there’s Patrik Laine, who is struggling to find himself in this game of hockey. The 20-year-old has just 24 goals this season for a total of 32 points in 43 games. This comes after an astounding November, where Laine seemed to show his critics right where to stick it by scoring 18 goals in a month. Since then? The numbers are back to telling the truth.
So, what is the truth about Laine and the Jets? Is it time to moderate expectations about the star player and spread things around, especially with the likes of Wheeler and Scheifele producing over a point-per-game?
That would be wise, at least for now.
Maybe Laine finds his game again or maybe the 20-year-old was cast too soon in the role of superstar player. Maybe he’s a streaky scorer with confidence issues.
After all, 14 months ago Laine offered up the “hockey is hard” pep talk and it seemed to reverberate. He’s thus far been to Finland this season and has gone through large patches of dormancy, posting just a goal in his last 10 games. And he’s lambasted bush camping on Fortnite.
Laine was shifted to the left side with Bryan Little and Ohio’s Jack Roslovic on Tuesday and found just two shots. He had two shots against Minnesota and has gone on record about not getting the opportunities.
Yet the Jets are winning, thanks in large part to Scheifele and Wheeler and others chipping in to cover discrepancies. The injury bug is biting, too, with Dustin Byfuglien and Nikolaj Ehlers on the shelf. And if you squint a little, you’ll find a way to make an iffy defence look passable.
The Laine question may dog the Jets for a while. What kind of player is he supposed to be, really? How will he contribute? And how does general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff behave when it comes to preparing his team for the post-season once more?