Published February 10, 2017
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Winnipeg Jets fans are hoping Tuesday night's benching of Patrik Laine will light a fire under the Finnish rookie sensation and his teammates as they try to get back in the playoff hunt.
Jets coach Paul Maurice demoted Laine to the fourth line shortly after his first-period giveaway led to the Minnesota Wild's second goal -- he finished the night minus three -- en route to a 3-0 lead and a 4-2 win.
The 18-year-old logged just 12 minutes and 58 seconds of ice time, his lowest total of the season, on 16 shifts.
"If I shaved three minutes off his game, I apologize to Manitoba," Maurice said to the media Wednesday. "I'll give you a little insight: he's playing with (Bryan) Little and (Nikolaj) Ehlers next game."
Maurice scoffed at the suggestion he had punished Laine, who had been the leading scorer among rookies until sustaining a concussion last month. Instead, it was mismatched lines against the Wild that prompted the move.
"I still love him and I'm going to play him again," he said.
Laine didn't make any excuses and agreed with the move.
"It was a tough game and I wasn't playing my best so I think it was a good decision from him," he said after practice Wednesday. "That kind of stuff happens and you have to give everything you've got even if it's one shift in the period, you've got to go out there as hard as you can and hope that you can get some more ice time."
After winning three games in a row for the first time this season, the Jets lost their next two and are hoping to get back in the chase against Chicago on Friday night.
Inexplicably, the Jets are undefeated in four contests against the Blackhawks this season. But that's nothing compared to Chicago's troubles against Minnesota. Jonathan Toews scored in overtime on Wednesday night in St. Paul to give the Blackhawks their first win against the Wild in nine tries.
The recent firings of Claude Julien in Boston and Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis leaves Joel Quenneville, who started behind the Blackhawks bench in 2008, as the longest-serving coach in the NHL.
He said center Jonathan Toews and defenseman Duncan Keith, neither of whom practiced on Thursday in Winnipeg, will play on Friday.
Quenneville said he's hoping Toews' scoring touch is back to stay. He has just 33 points on the season but two goals and three assists in the last three games.
"Johnny's play is important to us no matter if he's scoring or not. He's playing big minutes, important minutes, match-up minutes and he knows how to get the job done. When you're playing at that level, it's nice to see some production as well," he said.
"When your top guys are producing at a high rate, that puts your team in a good spot. It gives us a little more balance. You have a couple of lines that the opposition has to be worried about and what line they want to check or be worried about."