As the Columbus Blue Jackets look to make the leap from good to great, their offensive depth will be a constant source of attention.
While the top line of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Cam Atkinson garner the lion's share of the attention, their second line deserves more praise.
To date, only two Blue Jackets lines have played more than 100 minutes together at 5-on-5. The aforementioned No. 1 line is one, and the other is the imposing line of Boone Jenner, Josh Anderson, and Nick Foligno.
In many ways, it's a quintessential John Tortorella line. It's big, heavy, no-frills group that can check as well as provide a scoring punch. And while it passes the eye test, the underlying numbers are kind to it, too.
Per corsica.hockey, the line has given up an impossibly low three (!) goals at 5-on-5 in 244 minutes together on the ice. Given the Blue Jackets' inconsistent play in net for much of the year, that number is all the more impressive. At the other end of the ice, they've managed to score 11 goals. Their +8 difference between goals scored and goals allowed is the best on the team, edging out the top line's +6 (23 GF/17 GA).
The other lines that have played more than 50 minutes at 5-on-5 all have negative goal differentials. What's more: the other three line combinations with 50+ minutes of ice time together at have a combined six goals at 5on-5 compared to 18 against. To say that the Foligno, Jenner, Anderson line is tilting the ice in the Blue Jackets' favor would be underselling their effectiveness, while simultaneously throwing shade at the Blue Jackets third and fourth line's effectiveness.
But what specifically has allowed them to be so successful? There are a few factors, and none of it is a perfect science. For starters, Boone Jenner, who's played both wing and center extensively in his NHL career, is finding success at the center position this year. Tortorella has been reluctant to move Jenner away from the walls, as he's an effective player who is strong along the boards. While some have worried about his speed, the other two players on his line, Foligno and (especially) Anderson, have neutralized whatever speed deficiency may be there.
The three players seem to compliment each other offensively, too. Anderson is among the strongest puck carriers on the team, and he's like a bull in a china shop when he gets moving. Jenner, as mentioned above, is gifted at chasing down pucks and has enough skill to make teams pay. Foligno, while also strong along the walls, is a patient player who sometimes waits in the weeds, waiting for his opportunity to pounce. It shows on the scoresheet, as Jenner (15), Anderson (16), and Foligno (17) are among the team leaders in points.
Perhaps the most impressive fact about this line is what they're tasked with defensively. While the top line starts over 82% of its 5-on-5 shifts in the offensive zone, the second line starts just under 46% of its shifts in a favorable spot on the ice. Clearly, Tortorella trusts this line to get the job done in the defensive zone.
They may not be the 'sexy' second line that division rivals like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals can boast. But so far in this season, the hard facts suggest that they're among the best second lines in the NHL.
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