WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Winnipeg Jets have a game against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday afternoon, but you can excuse their players if they were a little unfocused and giddy with excitement at Friday morning’s practice.
That’s because joining them on the ice for the first time in nearly two weeks was Finnish rookie Patrik Laine, who is recovering from a concussion suffered at the shoulder of Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe. Wearing a yellow non-contact jersey, the 18-year-old took part in skating and shooting drills with the rest of his teammates, even doing a stint as part of a penalty-killing unit.
Laine said afterward he doesn’t remember being hit by McCabe.
“I got the puck and that’s it. I can’t remember anything else,” he said.
Laine suffered some headaches, fatigue and had trouble focusing in the days following the hit. He skated for the first time a couple of days ago.
He needs to be symptom-free for at least one day following a full-contact practice before he can play in a game.
Jets coach Paul Maurice said the team isn’t taking any chances with the cornerstone of their franchise.
“He’s absolutely not getting back into a game until he’s at 100 percent and clear. And then I’m more interested in getting him in the next game,” he said.
Laine has 21 goals and 16 assist in 42 games, good enough to earn him a selection to the NHL All-Star game later this month in Los Angeles. He is second in rookie scoring behind Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and tied for fourth in the league overall in goal scoring.
While the Jets seem to have answered their goaltending questions with Tuesday’s call-up of Ondrej Pavelec — he won his first start since last spring on Wednesday against Arizona — the Blues’ goaltending is a mess. Jake Allen gave up four goals on 10 shots Thursday night in a 7-3 loss at home to the Capitals. He has been pulled in his last three starts and in four of the last six. He has allowed 10 goals on 36 shots in his last three games.
Carter Hutton has not fared much better. He allowed three goals last night on eight shots. The pair have a combined save percentage of .888, which is last in the league.
So the Blues have also dipped into the minors, calling up Pheonix Copley from the Chicago Wolves. He made the trip to Winnipeg, but coach Ken Hitchcock hasn’t tipped his hand as to which goalie will start.
“We’re not coming back to help our defense nearly as hard as we need to,” Hitchcock said. “We’re not as committed to checking in the red zone as we were two weeks ago. We’re wasting a lot of energy trying to keep pucks in and keep them alive and not get it into our end and we’re not focused on the energy where we you need to have it.”
“We’ve had too many below-the-bar performances. We can’t absorb people below the bar. We’re a team built on the mass production of the 20 guys and when we have players who are not performing at the minimum level it really impacts us in a negative way.”
It also hasn’t helped matters that leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko has gone five games without a goal.