Eighteen games into the season and Winnipeg Jets right-winger Patrik Laine had only scored once at even strength.
That changed on Monday.
Laine led his team to a 6-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks with a hat trick, putting up two even-strength goals and an empty netter.
“I’m not going to say it out loud, but obviously it’s bothering because you’re not producing five-on-five,” the 20-year-old said after the win.
“But when you stay patient and work hard you are going to get rewarded like I got rewarded tonight. ... And from now on if I don’t score in the next 20 (games) 5-on-5 I am not going to lose it. I am just going to stay patient and keep working hard.”
Laine’s linemate, Bryan Little, said the Finnish forward is getting back into a grove after a rough start to the season.
“He is really hard on himself and wants to get better at every aspect of his game,” Little said. “For him it’s just staying positive and not being so hard on himself.”
Monday was a big night for Laine, Little and left-winger Kyle Connor. Their line combined for nine points.
“I always liked playing with those two and we are starting to build some chemistry between the three of us,” said Laine. “And today it was just kind of clicking right off the hop and we just have to keep playing like this. It’s hard for opponents to defend against four good lines.”
Little had a goal and an assist, while Connor scored once and got three helpers.
“Our line is pretty dynamic,” said Connor, who’s riding a five-game point streak. “We can score off the rush, we had some good O-zone time too. You never want to be one-dimensional as a player or a line.”
Mark Scheifele also scored for Winnipeg (12-5-2).
Elias Pettersson, Tyler Motte and Nikolay Goldobin put up goals for Vancouver (10-11-2).
Connor Hellebuyck stopped 22-of-25 shots for the Jets and Jacob Markstrom made 43 saves for the Canucks.
The Jets’ 49 shots on goal were the most Vancouver has allowed in a single game all season and extends the Canucks’ losing streak to six games. But Vancouver head coach Travis Green said he still saw positives in his team’s performance, especially after going down 4-1 in the second period.
“We made a game of it,” Green said. “I didn’t expect them to just lay down. We’ve talked about how we want to play. And part of how we want to play is when it’s hard. When you’re up against it a little bit, you’ve got to dig deep and play.”
The effort gives the Canucks something to build on, said Sam Gagner, who played his first NHL game of the season on Monday. The veteran centre was sent to the American Hockey League to start the campaign.
“That’s got to be our identity, that we just keep coming,” Gagner said. “I think you’re not always going to have it but you’ve got to find a way to get your legs under you and get some energy.”
Both teams are now hitting the road. The Jets will be in Calgary on Wednesday to battle the Flames while the Canucks are off to California, where they’ll face the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday.
Notes: Laine now has six career hat tricks. Wayne Gretzky is the only NHL player to have posted more three-goal games before his 21st birthday. Gretzky had 12 in his first 210 games. ... Injured Canucks defenceman Alex Edler is expected to join his teammates for their upcoming road trip. ... Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson now has 19 points in his first 17 NHL games.