Patrik Laine was a difference maker on Thursday night in Philadelphia.
He scored what turned out to be the eventual game-winning goal in the third period to lift the Blue Jackets to a 2-1 win over the Flyers. It was a shot that goaltender Carter Hart had little chance of stopping.
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It was the kind of shot that the Blue Jackets were hoping they’d see consistently from Laine ever since his arrival from the Winnipeg Jets. He has never consistently found his form in Columbus but Thursday night was a glimmer of hope of what could be coming.
Laine does one thing well. That’s shoot the puck. For whatever reason, he isn’t shooting as much as his team wants him to. Whether it’s because he doesn’t have the same supporting cast now as he did in Winnipeg or is just struggling with his confidence overall from everything he’s had to endure, there’s been an obvious dip in his game. But when someone is able to get him the puck, he still remains one of the most dangerous players in all of hockey.
Take Laine’s goal for instance. He found himself open in the right circle. Thanks to Jakub Voracek winning a puck battle to Boone Jenner, that was the catalyst for setting up Laine. His shot went in top corner and right out. Very few if any goalies could stop that shot when it’s going against the grain. From a Blue Jackets’ standpoint, the right player was in position to score.
Not only was Laine in position to score in this instance, he was a force throughout the game. He finished with five shots on goal. You could tell that he was going to be a factor all night. Then all it took was one chance to finish.
Now a little perspective for you. Laine’s five shots Thursday was more than what he had in his last three games combined. He took just three total shots in that span. It’s also just the third time in 18 games this season that he’s registered at least five shots. Conversely he’s been held to two or less in nine games, or half of the games he’s played in.
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To say that everyone on the Blue Jackets wants Laine to shoot more is a vast understatement. Both Voracek and head coach Brad Larsen each expressed their desire to want to see Laine shoot more during postgame.
“He can shoot more still,” Voracek said with a smile. Larsen went further.
“I’d love to see him shoot more,” Larsen said. “I think he’s got more opportunity to shoot it. It’s frustrating because his shot is so lethal. I don’t know why he wouldn’t shoot more at times. I shake my head because every time he shoots, it’s got a chance to go in.
“I think he ended up with five shots. I wish he had 10 and there’s opportunities to unleash that shot. I’ll never get mad at him for shooting the puck. Certainly more in volume and in bulk that’s a good thing for him.”
This begs the question how much of a dip has there been in Laine’s shooting from his days with the Jets until now with the Blue Jackets? Upon review, there is some encouraging signs here.
A Quick Review of Laine’s Career
The 2021-22 season is already Laine’s sixth season in the NHL. Here are his shots per game numbers as a reference point.
- 2016-17: 2.79 shots/game.
- 2017-18: 2.94 shots/game.
- 2018-19: 2.99 shots/game.
- 2019-20: 3.32 shots/game.
- 2020-21: 1.78 shots/game.
- This season: 2.67 shots/game.
A couple of obvious takeaways. Laine’s numbers were higher with the Jets. That’s no surprise. He came into that team when they had a more loaded roster. He didn’t have to play against the opposition’s best as much. He feasted on that because teams couldn’t lock in on him.
Now consider he was traded and put into a new situation when hockey wasn’t normal. His shots dripped dramatically. It led to questions about whether it would work with the Blue Jackets. Was John Tortorella somehow holding him back?
But now with a new coach in Larsen and a change in their style (more freedom on offense than before), Laine’s numbers are starting to recover. It’s not to the level of what it was on the Jets. But it is a noticeable improvement nevertheless.
Will we see Laine return to around three shots per game? Certainly he’s proven he can do that and it is possible. But we cannot forget the dramatic dip in overall talent. When teams game plan for the Blue Jackets, who are they going to pinpoint? It’s Laine and it’s not even close from a goals standpoint. Teams can focus on him because of the drop off in overall talent. There were 5-6 guys on the Jets teams had to account for consistently. That number is three tops on this Blue Jackets’ team.
The one stat that has been remarkably consistent for Laine going back to his Jets’ days is his shooting percentage. After going 17.7% and 18.2% in his first two seasons, he has settled in around the 12% range every season in his last four including this season. Even at 12%, Laine was able to reach 28 and 30 goals in his last two full seasons with the Jets. This is exactly why Larsen and the team want him to shoot, shoot often and shoot some more.
This seems to be the question on the minds of many in the hockey world. Laine’s current contract is up after this season. He has one year of RFA remaining before he becomes a UFA. Have the Blue Jackets seen enough to commit to him long-term? Will the best of Laine come during the rest of this season leading into that next contract? Can they afford to sign someone to a deal that is worth north of $8 million over multiple years if he isn’t putting up game-changing numbers? That is a decision management led by Jarmo Kekalainen will have to eventually decide.
That will all work itself out in time. For now though, the focus for Laine is to shoot more. When he gets looks, he’s scoring and scoring in key moments. His goal Thursday was his third game-winning goal of the season.
Personally, who could the Blue Jackets bring in that is as potent or even more potent in goal-scoring potential than Laine? The answer to that is nobody. I’ll give you one thing to consider here. Think of who’s coming.
Kent Johnson. Playmaker. Finisher. Kirill Marchenko. Skilled scorer and playmaker. Imagine for a moment what potential exists here. You have players playing on their ELC’s and a player like Laine who could take full advantage of that with his finishing ability. Put him with more skilled players and you should get more results from him.
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I would sign Laine to a longer-term deal given what he can bring to the table. There is question about the possibility of a trade. But unless you are getting an equal or better player, you don’t win that trade very often. You sometimes have to pay for world-class. What Laine brings when he’s on his game is world-class. That is something the Blue Jackets desperately need moving forward. Don’t underestimate what Voracek and Johnson could do to a player like Laine, like Oliver Bjorkstrand. That has the potential of being a lot of fun.
For now though, Laine needs to think shot. It’s too good to pass up and could make a huge difference to how the rest of this season will work out for the Blue Jackets.