If it weren’t for some of his teammates struggling, Pierre-Luc Dubois may not have gotten the opportunity on Monday night.
When he looked at the lineup, he was slotted between Artemi Panarin and Josh Anderson. You could make the case it was the Blue Jackets’ No. 1 line. For weeks now, John Tortorella has mixed and matched different line combinations in an effort to find something that works for his depleted forward group — but until Monday, this option hadn’t been deployed.
The kid, Dubois, between the team’s most dangerous scorer and their power forward? Those who second-guessed the idea wouldn’t have been out of place, but to borrow a phrase from his head coach, the kid jammed it to us in the Jackets’ 3-2 win over the Sabres.
Since returning to a center a few games ago, Dubois’ game has risen to another level. He was excellent in the Blue Jackets’ 2-0 win last Friday over the Rangers. Bit by bit he’s earning more minutes and responsibility from Tortorella, who has fluctuated between using Dubois at center and on the wing.
For now, at least, Dubois may have found a home in the middle.
“I think Luc is playing well and step by step, his game has grown,” said Tortorella. “We’re going to take our time, we’re going to be patient. He just played his game. He didn’t look overwhelmed playing with Panarin.
“I don’t think he was bothered at all by the positions he was put in, and he’s playing with one of our top guys.”
In a game that was essentially dead-even at 5-on-5, the difference-making line for the Blue Jackets on Monday was the Dubois line. All three players played at least 15 minutes of 5-on-5 time, and all three exceeded 75 percent in shot attempts for when on the ice. Panarin was +13 in that category, and Dubois? A casual +14.
Dubois scored the opening goal, Panarin added to the lead with a beauty in the second period, and Anderson was banging in the corners and forechecking like hell.
Tortorella brushed aside a question about their play-driving ability and whether that factored into the decision to use the trio together – but there’s at least some strategic thinking behind it.
“I’m not gonna pretend I’m smarter than I am (with the line composition),” Tortorella said. “He’s a guy that plays the game differently than some of our forwards. For tonight’s game, I thought it was a good line.”