TAMPA, Fla. - Prior to practice Friday, Blue Jackets teammates Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky shared a few laughs with fellow Russian, Nikita Kucherov, of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Panarin and Kucherov helped Russia win a bronze medal last spring in the 2017 IIHF Men's World Championship, held in Paris and Cologne, Ger., but chatting between practice sessions made for an interesting snapshot.
Heading into a game between the Blue Jackets (9-4-0) and Lightning (10-2-2) on Saturday at Amalie Arena (7:18 p.m., Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Go, CD102.5 FM), Kucherov leads the NHL with 13 goals in 14 games.
Panarin, meanwhile, can't seem to buy a goal with all the rubles in Russia.
The centerpiece of the Blue Jackets' blockbuster trade June 23 with the Chicago Blackhawks leads Columbus with 11 points, but has just one goal through 13 games. Panarin's shooting percentage is so low (2.5%) that it's even attracted coach John Tortorella's attention, and he is not fond of "analytics," in hockey.
"To me, it's good news, because we have found ways to win games," Tortorella said, before Panarin's percentage dipped even further, from 2.8 percent to 2.5 in the Blue Jackets' 7-3 win Thursday against the Florida Panthers. "This guy's going to score goals, and he's going to score them in bunches."
Based on Panarin's first two NHL seasons, Tortorella is almost certainly correct.
Playing on a line with Blackhawks star Patrick Kane and another Russian, Artem Anisimov, Panarin reached the 30-goal plateau in back-to-back years. He also topped 40 assists and 70 points each season, which helped him win the Calder Trophy in 2016 as the league's best rookie.
Panarin shot 16 percent on 187 shots as a rookie, scoring 30 goals, and shot 14.7 percent on 211 shots last year (31 goals). He had eight power-play goals as a rookie, nine last year, and had 12 game-winning goals for Chicago in the past two seasons combined.
This season, his first with the Blue Jackets, Panarin is on pace for a career-high 252 shots. He's yet to score on a power play, either.
Tortorella doesn't think the issue has anything to do with a learning curve between Panarin and his new teammates, though, because the scoring opportunities are there. Goals are a different story.
"I think he's had a ton of chances," Tortorella said. "He hasn't scored. Two-point [five] percent. [Reporters] are all into analytics. That's a [bad] analytic, a 2.6 shooting percentage. So, he's had chances. He has developed chances for other people, and they haven't scored. He has put in some really good minutes. He hasn't scored, and he will."
Panarin nearly scored in the third period against the Panthers, on a power play, no less. Instead, his shot from the right circle was tipped in front of the net by Boone Jenner for the Jackets' second power-play goal of the game.
The Blue Jackets, who came into the game without a power play goal in three games, were just happy to see the puck hit the back of the net. Prior to leaving Columbus for this three-game road trip, there was a power-play meeting at Nationwide Arena just to get everybody on the same page.
Part of the discussion involved Panarin, who was a major part of the Blackhawks' power play success the past two seasons.
His favorite area in the offensive zone is the left circle, where he likes to blast one-timers with his right-handed shot. The problem is the Blue Jackets, who finished 12th in the NHL with a 19.9 percent success rate last season, play a different system.
"As much as we love [Panarin] and what he brings, he's got to bring it into our team environment," said captain Nick Foligno, who's on the top power-play unit. "That's something you get away from on the power play, especially, because you know his abilities, you know what he can do and you see the highlight clips of what he's done before … but it's not us."
Foligno said there needs to be more give and take, especially with Panarin in his first season with Columbus.
"It's just the reality of it," he said. "You've got a new guy and you want to give him the same pucks in the same [areas he likes], but that's not our power play. That's not how we work. So, I think it's just him learning us and getting used to where he needs to be in order to have success."
News & Notes
DUBINSKY PRACTICES: Brandon Dubinsky was back on the ice after missing the third period against the Panthers with blurred vision. The issue stemmed from an incident with Florida defenseman Keith Yandle during a post-whistle scrum.
"He just eye-gouged me," said Dubinsky, who was assessed minor penalties for roughing and cross-checking. "I don't know if it's scratched. The eye doctor said it looks good, or everything looks fine. It's just a dirty move. You get face-washes, and if you just want to drop the gloves and get it overwith, that's fine too. I think it was a gutless move by him."
Dubinsky said his vision was blurred for about half of the third period, but improved to the point he could've returned had the game been closer.
CALVERT CLIPPED BY PUCK: Matt Calvert saw a dentist Friday morning, after nearly losing two teeth in the first period against the Panthers. Calvert was seated on the Columbus bench when an errant puck, off the stick of teammate Josh Anderson, struck him right in the mouth.
Calvert's mouthguard was in place, which helped mitigate the damage, but his front two teeth on the top row were pushed back by the impact. Calvert eventually got stitches in his lower lip, and moved the teeth back into place on his own during the game. The Lightning's team dentist treated him Friday morning, and Calvert practiced in the afternoon.
"I wouldn't say, 'scary,'" said Calvert, who has points in the past three games. "Honestly, you usually see it coming out of the corner of your eye, and I don't know if I was looking at the water bottle or what I was doing, but I was sitting on the bench and my teeth were back up inside my mouth. We went back in the room and just had to push 'em back up, and the mouthguard kind of held them in place the rest of the night."
Calvert said there is a temporary fix in place now, until he can see the dentist in Columbus.
ATKINSON NOT ON TRIP: Injured forward Cam Atkinson (lower body) didn't make the trip. Tortorella said Atkinson, who's missed two games, wouldn't re-join his teammates until Tuesday at the earliest, when the Blue Jackets play the Nashville Predators at Nationwide Arena.
Tortorella said Atkinson might be ready to play, but nothing has been determined yet.
DUBOIS GETS LOOK AT CENTER: Rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois played in the middle of the fourth line against Florida, and did well. His line was matched up against the Panthers' fourth line most of the game.
Dubois and Sonny Milano had assists. Markus Hannikainen scored his first goal of the season.
"[Dubois] was involved more than he was in any other game," Tortorella said. "I talked to him before the game about playing center. He said when his dad coached him, he always put him at center when his legs weren't moving. His legs haven't been moving [at wing], so it's a perfect opportunity. I thought it worked out well and he played one of his better games."
Playing center adds more defensive responsibilities and zone coverage for Dubois, 19, who was back in the same role at practice. He will likely stay in that spot against Tampa Bay.
"We talked about it before [the game]," Dubois said. "[Tortorella] wants me to move my feet and always be skating, and when I was younger, my dad would do that. When I wouldn't be skating enough, he'd put me at center to get me going again. That's what Torts did last night, I guess, and it worked."