Skip to main content
The Official Site of the Columbus Blue Jackets

ANALYSIS: Dubois using strength, puck protection to add to production

Also taking a look at the CBJ power play, plus praise for David Savard

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Today, our biweekly analysis piece on the state of the Blue Jackets will feature a compliment sandwich. Two nice things to say about the team at the moment while, in the middle, we'll take a look at the one thing that seems to unite Columbus fans in angst -- the sagging power play. 

Luc at that: Perhaps the brightest spot on the young season has been the play of Pierre-Luc Dubois. 

The 21-year-old center leads the team with five goals, all of which have come in the past eight games. It's an impressive stretch, but it's made even more so by the way he's done it.  

Always a physical player blessed with impressive size and strength, Dubois seems to have marshaled and focused his gifts even more impressively in his third NHL season after two excellent campaigns to start his career. 

Last week was a strong one literally and physically for the imposing center. In Monday night's win vs. Toronto, he scored a goal by peeling off the wall in the corner with Auston Matthews all over him, then took the puck to the net and stuffed it home. He scored a similar goal Saturday in Philadelphia, but his most impressive play might have come in Thursday's home win vs. Carolina, and it wasn't a goal. 

As the team battled through overtime with the Hurricanes, Dubois and Martin Necas battled for a puck. Dubois took possession and essentially skated right through the checking attempt of Necas, then went to the net and fed Cam Atkinson for the winning goal.  

Video: CAR@CBJ: Dubois feeds Atkinson for overtime winner

Atkinson immediately pointed to his longtime linemate as he celebrated the goal. For head coach John Tortorella, the move was impressive both for its physical nature but also because of the work Dubois put in to make it happen.  

"That's a skill," Tortorella said. "The move he makes to start that overtime goal, that's a skill. That's not just strength and a big body. That's some pretty good legs, too, as far as how quickly he can cut and also handle the puck while he's doing that. He's a good player. He has a chance to be a great player." 

For Dubois, a focus on carrying the puck was a key part of his offseason workouts, knowing he'd likely have it on his stick more now that Artemi Panarin has left his line. He also appears to be stronger than ever, as he is listed at an imposing 6-3, 218 pounds of pure muscle.  

The last piece of the puzzle? The realization that he consistently has the ability to hold the puck against even the strongest NHL players.  

"Now this year, I can shoot, I can pass, maybe I can protect it, maybe I can skate with it," Dubois said. "As a player, I think that's what you want to become. You want to become that guy that can do everything. Now I'm protecting the puck, but one game I could be passing it. That's what you strive for as a player is to be that player no one can read off." 

The ability to protect the puck also opens up options for Dubois, who says the biggest benefit of strength on the puck is the time it provides. 

"I think it's just the easiest way to use it is just to give yourself an extra second to find someone," he said. "As soon as I get the puck, I'm not thinking protect it. I'm thinking, 'What can I do offensively?' If there's nothing, that's when I go to protect the puck. 

"I feel more comfortable with it now than I did my first year, and I feel more comfortable with keeping the puck away and keeping my head up. That's another thing. Keeping your body between the guys and the puck is easy. The hard part is figuring out what you're going to do after when he figures out a way to get closer the puck. I definitely feel more comfortable this year than I did my first year." 

Getting the power: So, there's not really any avoiding it. 

Tortorella's not even shying away from the struggles of the team's power play in the wake of Saturday's loss at Philadelphia in which the Jackets went 0-for-5 with the man advantage and gave up three shorthanded breakaways, the last of which was converted by Kevin Hayes for the game-winning goal. 

"Our power play sucks," the head coach said Monday in his post-practice interview. "We're deliberate, we're panicking, no one wants the puck. It sucks. And that falls on me. We are going to make some changes as far as where personnel is and where personnel is utilized on the power play, some different bodies going in there. And rightfully so. … Right now, our power play, it sucks because it hurt us the other night. Hurt us terribly."  

The numbers, Blue Jackets fans can tell you, are not great. At the moment, Columbus is slotted 25th in the NHL in power-play percentage at 11.9, and the team is in the midst of a 1-for-26 spell with the man advantage over the past eight games. A year ago, Columbus finished 28th in the NHL at 15.4 percent. 

So, the numbers are stark. Tortorella has said he grades the unit as much on how it's playing as its raw numerical production, consistent with his process vs. results mind-set. And to be fair, the Blue Jackets have created power-play opportunities that haven't ended up in the net -- for example, I can think of three times the team has drawn iron on the man advantage this year off the top of my head.  

Saturday, the team created some good looks, including chances in front for Josh Anderson in the first period and Gustav Nyquist in the second, both the result of good puck movement. But the reality is there are always close calls in hockey. Good looks aren't goals, and power plays need to produce. 

And there have been times the Blue Jackets have produced. In 2016-17, the team operated near 25 percent for most of the first half. Last year, the Blue Jackets were 8-for-21 (38.1 percent) in the team's first seven playoff games, a stretch in which Columbus was 6-1. 

Last year, when things were working, I pointed out four things that were contributing to the success -- possession, a strong net-front presence, personnel utilization and shots on net.  

It's not exactly reinventing the wheel, and there are probably some other things the Blue Jackets can do better structurally like quick passing, better utilizing the "bumper" spot in the middle of the power play and letting go more one-timers.  

In the end, though, it might come down to something simple. Execution and mind-set can be one in the same, as the right combination of the two can breed confidence. 

"We don't have that attack mentality," Nick Foligno said. "We don't have five guys grabbing ahold of it, or 10 guys grabbing ahold of it. On the penalty kill we seem to have it. For whatever reason, we don't have that attack, that nastiness (on the power play) … that's really how we're built."

Saturday's game appeared to be a nadir, and the goal now is to build back up from there. The team switched up units for its Tuesday practice, with Dubois at the net front joined on the top unit by Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg, Emil Bemstrom and blueliner Zach Werenski. The second unit featured Boone Jenner up front; Sonny Milano, Nyquist and Oliver Bjorkstrand across the middle; and Seth Jones up top.  

Time will tell the results, but the Blue Jackets are at least being proactive in making changes.  

In praise of Savard: Think about all the different partners David Savard has had in his time with the Blue Jackets. 

Even in recent seasons, he's worked well with an offensive standout in Zach Werenski and on a shutdown pair with Ian Cole. Thursday night, he was moved to a line with Ryan Murray, and the two replied by each going plus-2 and posting two points. 

"He's a utility guy that we can move up and down with pairs," Tortorella said.  

When asked why that is, the head coach had an easy answer -- Savard is a good player. It might sound simple, but hey, sometimes simple works.  

But there is something to be said about how well Savard's pairing with Vladislav Gavrikov has gone this year. The two were separated when Markus Nutivaara went down, leading to Savard's move to play with Murray, but it wouldn't be a surprise if the two "Lumberjackets" will return as a pair sooner rather than later. 

According to statistics at MoneyPuck.com, the duo is one of the best in the NHL at preventing goals. In fact, so far this year, the Savard-Gavrikov pairing is eighth in the NHL at expected goals against among those with at least 80 minutes played, allowing just 1.57 per 60 minutes. 

"They sort of play at the same pace," said assistant coach Brad Shaw, who oversees the defensive unit. "They seem to think the game at the same pace. They are pretty much unflappable out there. They are calm under pressure which is a nice thing to have. 

"They're an easy pair to put out in the D zone, that's for sure. You know the job is going to get done. You know it's going to be physical, and you know the puck play is going to be simple and we're probably going to play minimal time in the zone because of it." 

Add in Savard's sneaky good offensive skills and it's fair to say the man who just played in his 500th NHL game deserves to be celebrated.  

View More