Defenseman Matt Dumba played coy and didn’t want to spill the beans when it came to how the Wild plans to defend Winnipeg’s goal-scoring wunderkind, Patrik Laine.
“I guess you guys will see how we defend it,” Dumba said with a smile Tuesday, a day before the Wild and Jets opened their first-round playoff series in Manitoba. “I’m not going to give away any secrets, but he’s that guy who’s going to shoot everything.”
There’s also a decent chance those shots will find the back of the net.
Laine, who is only 19, scored 44 goals in his second season. The Jets are one of the NHL’s most complete teams, but if the Wild is going to have a chance of pulling off the upset, it likely has to stop Laine. He has scored on a whopping 18.3 percent of his shots on goal (the league average hovers around 9 percent) and looking at where he scored from might give the Wild an indication of how it needs to contain him.
Laine scores goals differently depending whether he is on the power play or skating 5-on-5. Of the 22 goals he scored during 5-on-5 play, most came from the middle of the ice or the middle half of the two circles, according to maps provided by Naturalstattrick.com.
The Wild has done a commendable job the second half of the season limiting opponents’ chances from the middle of the ice and around the net. In that sense, its system might have a chance of containing Laine 5-on-5.
But the story changes on the power play. Laine likes to set up shop near the top of the left circle or just outside of it. Laine had 20 power-play goals this season, with most coming from that area of the ice. The Wild has to walk a fine line between focusing on Laine during a Jets power play while not letting his capable teammates such as Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny and Mark Scheifele hurt them.
“You have to have a certain respect for him on that side,” defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. “But if you start worrying about him too much, they’re going to burn you a different place.”
When he gets the puck, Laine rarely scores via slapshot (six goals, according to NHL.com) and instead scores via wrist shot (22 goals) and led the league in snap-shot goals (14). Whichever method he chooses is effective, goaltender Devan Dubnyk said.
“It’s heavy,” Dubnyk said. “If you drew a circle around him, then it’s a pretty huge area he’s able to grab the puck and he rips it at the net. That’s what makes him such a great goal scorer.”
Dubnyk said he has to be cognizant not to get screened on the power play because Laine is accurate and shoots with speed. Dumba compared Laine’s skills to another great goal scorer, the only one that topped Laine this season — Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
“He’s got that Ovechkin feel to him where he’s setting himself up, pulling himself away from the play and then guys make really good passes to him,” Dumba said.
Then Laine usually takes really good shots. The Wild has to try and keep that from happening as much as possible over the next two weeks.