Jets vs Jackets and Laine, what gives?
The 5-5 in their last ten games Columbus Blue Jackets visit Winnipeg and the polar vortex to take on the 7-3-0 Jets. That's as far as it goes here and for the Jets, after some rather iffy play in Boston and Philadelphia, perhaps the cold weather is motivating for them. Hopefully it reminds Patrick Laine and of home and gives him some motivation.
While Laine may only be in his third season and he is ahead of his goal scoring pace from his previous two NHL seasons he is hardly the same player when he is not scoring goals. Also look at when he has scored goals- hello November!!
So the conversation has turned to him in the circles around Winnipeg. However it's not like the last true sniper the Jets had, Evander Kane, who was traded in 2015 along with defenseman Zach Bogosian. Kane become known amongst Jets fans as a guy who cashed in on a 30 goal season and then simply stopped scoring and just shot it from the 'top of the circles'. The fans turned on him, probably due his antics away from the ice and perhaps the difference with Laine thus far, because other than the month of November his play on the ice has been less than ideal.
Jim Toth of TSN1290 made the statement on air the other day that he is tired of hearing Bryan Little blamed for Laine's struggles. Laine was benched in the second period in the game against Boston and fans are growing restless with what they see- clearly the coach is too. The solution, or at least the one being employed by head coach Paul Maurice, is to let him play through it and bench him when needed. However, is Laine getting the short end of the deal?
Let's be honest, it helps the Jets long term if Laine struggles, and they could be sand-bagging him. At the very least their management of Laine could create the possibility of him being sandbagged when it comes to his next contract.
Now go back to earlier in the season and Nik Ehlers was struggling. Kyle Connor was playing alight so what did Maurice do? He started alternating the two on the first and second line. Let's not forget that in past seasons the line of Ehlers, Scheifele and Wheeler has been a good trio and had success. So Ehlers gets the benefit, and Connor too, of playing with the dynamic duo of Wheeler and Schiefele but not Laine or Little for that matter?
The problem with Maurice is it appears he's not simply reluctant to split up Scheifele and Wheeler, he sees them as the reward for playing well. It's this approach that should be the concern because without the depth of a functioning second line.
As a trio Roslovic, Little and Laine have a CF% of 44.38% in 87 5vs5 minutes. To Jim Toth's point when Roslovic and Little have been together for 18:25 they have a CF% of 56.82. When Laine and Little are together they are 44.93% and for the 123 minutes that Little has been away from either of the two he's a 56% CF player. When Laine is away from both he's treading water at 50.19%.
This issue is complicated because right now the best fix is Ehlers returning, or is it?
So far this season at 5vs5 the Ehlers Little Laine trio rocks a 44.56% at CF- they are underwater and by a good margin in their 110 minutes. There's not much other meaningful minutes to go with when looking at that trio or adding in Kyle Connor to the mix
Ehlers, Little and Connor 24:34 CF is 72.41%
Ehlers and Laine away from the other two is 24:33 and CF is 55%
When looking at the WOWY adding in Wheeler and Scheifele you can see where some experimental holes exist. For instance there are no 5vs5 minutes of these combos:
Ehlers Scheifele Connor
Ehlers Laine Wheeler
Ehlers Wheeler Connor
Obviously that's because there's no centre on two out of three combos but remember how well Wheeler did as a C while Scheifele was injured last year. Also it appears Maurice only wants Ehlers on his left side while he is quite effective on the RW, his off wing that he played all through junior.
In 23 minutes the combo of Laine, Scheifele Wheeler had a CF of 55.74% yet in 16 minutes Scheifele Laine and Connor had a 44.1% CF. It should be noted that there is no detail on who these minutes are played against and that too is relevant.
Another interesting number is that when Connor and Laine are without Scheifele and Wheeler their CF together is 43%.
It's complicated but more so because Wheeler and Scheifele can seemingly never be split. So perhaps we have reached that time to split them if the team needs to make it's roster optimized for success and winning, not just for managing the future contracts of two RFAs. (yes some are suggesting that).
Ehlers Little Wheeler 2 5vs5 mins 100% CF
Connor Scheifele Laine 20 5vs5 mins 46% CF
Or let's get radical...
Ehlers Little Wheeler
Perreault Scheifele Laine
Connor Lowry Tanev
Appleton, Copp Roslovic
To the point of Laine- it's clear there are situations that he is better suited but most players are when it comes to playing with strong puck possession players. It does not excuse some of his decision making with or without the puck that involves execution of passes, entries and positioning away from the puck. One other comment about Laine is he appears to hate to stop and start with skating. He roams and turns but cannot use his speed to beat anyone. This is on him to fix and the sooner he does the sooner the game becomes easier because he will be harder to play against.
In the short term though, what is barely working may not work much longer for the Jets as they face stiffer and more frequent competition down the stretch. The pressure will soon move to coach and GM though as the solutions likely will come from them as what doesn't work is now fairly obvious to everyone.