Penguins aim to slow down Jets’ Laine

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The last time the Winnipeg Jets had the NHL’s goal-scoring leader on its roster, Teemu Selanne was tearing things up as a rookie.

The Finnish Flash went back and forth with Buffalo’s Alexander Mogilny during the season and they both ended up with 76 goals during the 1992-93 campaign. Selanne set a mark that will likely never be topped for first-year players. (Mogilny was already a relative veteran in his fourth season.)

Fast forward to today and the Jets now boast the league’s leading sniper after winger Patrik Laine notched a quintet of goals in an 8-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night, giving him 19.

Less than four weeks ago, Laine was bouncing around the line-up, even spending some time on the fourth line, having scored just three times in a dozen games. Then the Jets flew to Finland for a pair of contests against the Florida Panthers and Laine suddenly regained his scoring touch, scoring four goals, including one hat-trick.

His torrid pace has continued, including two more hat-tricks and 11 goals in his last four games. In fact, he’s the only player in NHL history to record a hat-trick in three different countries in the same season.

He’ll be looking to increase his lead in the race for the Rocket Richard trophy when the Jets host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place.

Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin said he and his teammates are well aware of what happened in St. Louis on the weekend.

“(Laine) doesn’t need a lot of room to get his shot off. And it’s so heavy, it’s tough for goalies to react to. He’s a dynamic player and he’s also got really good hands and can create space for himself,” he told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The visitors have hardly been acting like perennial Stanley Cup contenders and currently sit in sixth places in the Metropolitan Division, but they got a boost last week when captain Sidney Crosby returned to the line-up after missing a troika of games with an upper-body injury. He has five points in three games since his return, two of them wins.

The Penguins know they’ve got a tough week ahead as they have to travel to Colorado for Wednesday night, where they’ll face arguably the hottest line in the league, center Nathan MacKinnon and wingers Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.

Jets coach Paul Maurice was quick to praise not only Laine but his entire second line, including center Bryan Little and left winger Kyle Connor, who each had four points against the Blues.

“What the three of them were able to do was impressive. They’re going to do things differently based on the style of player but the end result is they had a lot of offensive zone time,” he said in a scrum after practice on Monday.

“At times when Patty weighed in, he’s a physical presence down there. I’m not talking about dropping guys or knocking guys down, I’m talking about controlling the puck and holding people off. Each one of them does it differently but they’re starting to bring their own individual gifts to the line and play off each other well.”