WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Connor McDavid and Patrik Laine probably won’t play much against each other Wednesday night but the matchup of the two young phenoms is one the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers hope continues for many years to come.
The 19-year-old Laine, runner-up for the Calder Trophy last year and who would still be eligible to play in the World Juniors that just started in Buffalo, leads Winnipeg with 18 goals, including an NHL-most 10 on the power play.
McDavid, 20, who won the scoring title last year, sits sixth with 43 points, eight behind league leader Nikita Kucherov. Laine and McDavid were heating up leading into the Christmas break as Laine scored in three of his last four games and McDavid recorded two goals and an assist in his past two contests.
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After opening the season with a pair of lopsided losses, the Jets talked their fans off the ledge by getting untracked with a 5-2 victory against the Oilers on Oct. 9. Connor Hellebuyck won his first game of the year en route to establishing himself as the No. 1 goalie and Nik Ehlers scored a natural hat trick. Hellebuyck is among the league leaders in all goaltending categories, has 18 victories in 27 starts and has lost only one home game. Ehlers, meanwhile, is one back of Laine with 17 goals and is well on his way to topping his career high of 25 last year.
Regardless of what happens at Bell MTS Place on Wednesday, you can bet it will be on everybody’s minds four nights later when the teams meet again in a New Year’s Eve matchup in Edmonton.
The Jets didn’t practice on Boxing Day so the team’s fans will have to wait until Wednesday’s morning skate to see what line combinations coach Paul Maurice has put together. He promoted left winger Mathieu Perreault from the fourth line to the first line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler in Saturday’s 5-2 road loss to the New York Islanders, a game in which they trailed 2-0 before the game was three minutes old.
“Just looking for something,” Maurice told The Winnipeg Sun. “I thought the game was played in the corners for the most part and that’s where Matty Perreault excels. That’s why he got an opportunity and guys who have the fewest miles on them, trying to give them a bit more ice.”
If there’s one team that didn’t need the Christmas break, it’s the Oilers, who are riding a four-game winning streak with victories over the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks.
You might get an argument from McDavid, though. He blocked a shot with his skate late in Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Montreal and had to leave the game. Coach Todd McLellan told a post-game media scrum that X-rays came back negative.
“His foot is a little sore obviously from blocking it, but he’s in good spirits. The three days (break) will help him and I fully expect him to play in Winnipeg (on Dec. 27),” McLellan said.
The Oilers (17-17-2) have reached the .500 mark for the first time since the first week of the season while the Jets (20-11-6) are third in the Central Division.