Top line found: Dubois, Anderson, Panarin
Pierre-Luc Dubois laughed, conceding that he doesn’t know the source of his synergy with Josh Anderson and Artemi Panarin.
“When I get the puck at a certain place, I know and have a feeling of where they’re going to be,” Dubois said, trying to explain their cohesion. “We don’t think — we just play with our instincts. That’s why we’re dangerous.”
It took about a quarter of the season, but the Blue Jackets have found their top line. That’s what coach John Tortorella termed the trio Tuesday after a 3-2 shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Anderson scored his team-leading ninth goal on a pass from Dubois, and Panarin succeeded in the shootout.
It’s a dubious combination at first glance: a 19-year-old rookie center who arrived at training camp as a wing trying to make the roster, flanked on the left by a sniper — the team’s prized offseason acquisition — and on the right by a former contract holdout who was projected to be a secondary scorer in his second full NHL season.
Tortorella will readily acknowledge that the Panarin-DuboisAnderson line — the best of several bold, experimental blends this season — wasn’t a grand combo he devised. Rather, it was born of desperation.
The coach was searching for a center to pair with Panarin after the first two options, Alexander Wennberg and Nick Foligno, didn’t work out, so he tried Dubois. It has resulted in a line Tortorella said he has sent onto the ice for 80 percent of faceoffs in the offensive zone, and deservedly so, he added.
Anderson described his line as “fast” and “hard to play against” in the offensive zone.
“It kind of reminds me of (Brandon) Dubinsky and Boone (Jenner’s) line where they have two grinders and then Cam (Atkinson), the skilled guy,” Anderson said. “We bring a lot of that same thing.”
Although Anderson characterized himself as a grinder, Tortorella deemed him the team’s “most consistent forward” offensively. Anderson has averaged five minutes of ice time more per game than last season, when he notched 17 goals and 12 assists in 78 games, and he is validating the three-year, $5.5 million contract extension he recently received after the negotiations caused him to miss all but three days of the preseason.
“You can see Andy is feeling it, too,” Tortorella said. “He thinks that he should be doing these things (and) that he needs to take it to another level. … Because there is another level with Andy. That’s what’s exciting to me.”
The chemistry between Anderson and Dubois is clear, but there’s some doubt about whether Panarin, who boasts a teamhigh 16 points but just five goals, meshes with them. Tortorella insisted that Panarin “fits on that line.”
“Panarin is a different type of player” from Dubois and Anderson, Tortorella said. “But he’s all over the scoring sheet every game. … He does things that people don’t see sometimes. He makes some good little plays that make that line better.”
“He’s one of the most skilled guys in the NHL,” Dubois said. “He finds open space, and if you give him the puck, he’ll make the right play.”
Anderson has notched a point in a career-high four consecutive games, and Dubois has two goals and an assist in the past five games. Tortorella said Dubois is making the types of plays that general manager Jarmo Kekalainen promised but that Tortorella initially didn’t see.
Said Tortorella, “It makes it really interesting having him in the middle of the ice, doing the things he’s doing right now, in terms of what I can do with other guys.”
The Blue Jackets’ Josh Anderson, center, hugs Pierre-Luc Dubois after scoring on a Dubois assist less than two minutes into Tuesday’s game against Carolina.