Patrik Laine‘s much-anticipated Columbus Blue Jackets debut didn’t go as well as he hoped.
Laine and the Blue Jackets started slowly before their third-period comeback fell short in a 6-3 loss to the Dallas Stars at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Tuesday.
“It was tough at the beginning,” the forward said after his first game since being traded from the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 23. “The legs weren’t quite there. My head was definitely not there. My hands were not there. And, obviously, a new system and linemates. But I’m not here to make excuses. I think I wasn’t at the level I need to be for this team to be able to win.”
Playing for the first time in 19 days, Laine did not score a point; he had two shots on goal, seven shot attempts and a minus-2 rating in 20:54 of ice time. He said he hopes to feel more comfortable when the Blue Jackets play the Stars again here Thursday.
“I’ve had one morning skate with the team and that’s it,” Laine said. “So it’s not the ideal situation, but that’s these circumstances. But it will be a really big team practice for me tomorrow [to] work on things and watch video for the new systems and how I played today. So it will be a good day tomorrow.”
It’s understandable that Laine needs time to adjust. Before Tuesday, he had not played since he scored two goals, including one in overtime, and had an assist in the Jets’ 4-3 victory against the Calgary Flames in their season opener Jan. 14.
An upper-body injury kept Laine out of Winnipeg’s next three games, and he was placed on injured reserve Jan. 22. The following day he was traded to Columbus with center Jack Roslovic for center Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. After that, Laine had to sit out awaiting a work visa and following quarantine rules related to crossing the Canada-United States border.
Though Laine appeared rusty at times, Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said he saw some positives in his play.
“I think he’s looking for more shots to get on net, but he can pass the puck,” Tortorella said. “That’s one thing we can see right away. He can pass the puck and he’s not afraid to make plays in traffic. … I think he played 20-plus (minutes). He’s going to get that. That’s how we’re going to get him acclimated in some sort of conditioning, into game conditioning.”
Columbus hopes Laine can spark its offense, which entered Tuesday averaging 2.30 goals per game, 28th in the NHL. Laine, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, has scored 140 goals in his five seasons and scored 63 points (28 goals, 35 assists) in 68 games last season.
He entered Tuesday with 18 goals and seven assists in 17 games against the Stars.
“I’ve just got to shoot more,” Laine said. “I think I was just passing it too much. I think that’s just being on a new team. You want to be a good guy, give it to other guys as well and not always shoot it yourself. In that department, you’ve just got to be a little bit selfish sometimes and just hopefully put the puck in the back of the net.”
Laine started on a line with center Alexandre Texier and right wing Cam Atkinson. Tortorella shuffled the lines after the Blue Jackets fell behind 5-1 in the second period and tried Roslovic with Laine and Atkinson before giving Mikko Koivu a shift at center on that line in the third.
Laine drew a penalty when Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak was called for tripping him off a face-off with 2:24 remaining in the first period. Defenseman Zach Werenski fed Laine for a one-timer from the top of the left circle five seconds into the power play, but Stars defenseman Mark Pysyk read the play and blocked it off his ankle.
Laine had three other shot attempts blocked but demonstrated his passing skill throughout the game, including a feed to defenseman Seth Jones for a scoring chance in front 9:16 into the second period.
“You can see some of the plays he makes on the rush and some of his creativity,” Jones said, “and I’m sure that will continue to improve.”