"There’s nothing broken."
After those three words, spoken by Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice, the collective sigh of relief by fans across the province of Manitoba partially obscured the rest of Maurice’s thoughts.
Of course, the topic was the left ankle/foot of treasured sniper Patrik Laine, who became just another key piece of this Jets roster to limp to a dressing room, his injury coming when he blocked a shot against Los Angeles on Tuesday. Almost every important player has endured injury on this Winnipeg team this season, but the possibility of losing Laine to serious injury with just nine regular season games remaining was a cruel, cruel blow indeed.
"We don’t know how quickly these things drain. It’s not really about pain tolerance," Maurice said, on a day when the injured Laine was not interviewed by media. "The way we’re going right now, we don’t want him hobbling around the ice.
"As soon as he can put his foot back in the boot and skate, he’ll be back playing."
Assuming the Jets are telling the truth, of course.
Hey, don’t take it personally, Paul. But we’re close enough to the playoffs that we don’t believe much when it comes to injury disclosure.
Maurice said "four to 14 days" was an expected window for Laine’s absence. That is commensurate of a bruise, not a break.
So for now we’ll expect that Laine won’t play Friday versus Anaheim, and is unlikely to go Sunday in the second-round preview at Bell MTS Place between the Jets and Nashville Predators.
But he will play soon enough — and be there for the playoffs. That’s all anyone in Winnipeg really wanted to hear on Thursday.
"It’s a huge relief," said Bryan Little to the Winnipeg media, the trusty centreman who will step into Laine’s right-wing spot on a line with Paul Stastny and Nikolaj Ehlers. "He’s such a big part of our team and of our offence. Just the power play alone, that leaves a big hole. He’s been playing really well lately, not just scoring goals but doing everything well. The way he got hurt, he’s blocking a shot for the team. It’s tough to lose a guy, especially when he’s playing like that."
Ah, shot blocking.
Let us take this opportunity to once again question the NHL’s shot blocking culture, which somehow has mushroomed in an era where goalies have never been larger or better protected. The point: in the history of hockey, goalies have never required LESS help to keep pucks out of the net. Yet today, superstars like Laine awkwardly block shots with parts of their body that were never meant to stop pucks.
Ask a Jets fan that paid through the nose for tickets this weekend: would they rather watch Laine block a shot and limp away? Or watch Connor Hellebuyck make a save, and have Laine thrilling them (not to mention giving them value for their dollar) in two games this weekend?
In baseball, does the pitcher fly into a dugout chasing a foul pop-up? Does Lebron take a charge the way the guy coming off the bench does? Does a quarterback sell out on a tackle after a turnover? Does the star striker even come back and play defence in soccer, most of the time?
But that is hockey culture. All for one, and no one is bigger than the team. We love that about the game, but hate it at times like this, as the most promising race in years for the Rocket Richard Trophy gets knee-capped by a stupid blocked shot.
Should guys like Laine be going out of their way to block shots, Maurice was asked.
"No. He should have been skating a lot faster toward the shot," the coach answered. "Run to the fire, is the rule. Because it hurts a whole heck of a lot more if you’re 30 feet off it."
Well, what’s done is done — and that could well describe the race between Alex Ovechkin and Laine for the goal scoring lead, not to mention a coveted 50-goal season. Laine has 43 goals, Ovechkin 44, with each player’s team having nine games to play.
The Capitals are in Detroit Thursday night and Montreal Saturday, two bottom-feeders who should allow for plenty of Washington power-play time and Ovechkin opportunity.
After the Nashville game, Winnipeg gets Boston, Chicago and Toronto before closing their season with four games against non-playoff teams (Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary, Chicago).
Realistically? Ovechkin can have the Rocket Richard.
As long as Laine is standing on that left dot on the first power play Winnipeg gets in the post-season.