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Latest line shuffling sprouts interesting combo for Panarin

Dynamic Russian left wing scored for a second straight game, playing with two power forwards

by Brian Hedger JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

BUFFALO, N.Y. - It was only one game, so it's too early to make any definitive statements about Artemi Panarin and his latest linemates: Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson.

That doesn't mean there wasn't some chemistry between them Monday night at KeyBank Center, when the Blue Jackets won their fourth straight game, 3-2, against the Buffalo Sabres.

Put together for the first time by coach John Tortorella, with Panarin and Anderson flanking the rookie center Dubois, their line was the best on the ice for either team. They kept the action in the Sabres' zone and two of them scored goals - Dubois to open the scoring in the second period and Panarin in the third to make it 2-0.

"He's a guy that plays the game differently than some of our forwards, and I don't want to take away his game," Tortorella said of Panarin, who's been an odd fit thus far on a team with a lot of straight-line forwards. "We just need to find a complement to it. For tonight's game. I thought it was a good line."

The complement, at least for this game, was putting two power forwards who can skate with Panarin - a shifty water bug type of skater with hands, vision and a great shot. The size and speed of Dubois (6-foot-3, 207 pounds) and Anderson (6-3, 221) helped the trip keep pucks alive and created room for Panarin to operate.

They drove puck-possession, and pushed the action deep into the Sabres' end of the ice - where Tortorella wants the Jackets to play more often. Their possession numbers were the highest on the team - all three finishing north of 70 percent in shot-attempts percentage (Corsi).

The majority of the Blue Jackets' scoring chances also happened during their shifts.

"It's not just with [Panarin]," Tortorella said. "I liked the way they played together tonight, but I think [Dubois] has played well. Step-by-step, his game has grown."

The growth in this game was through playing no differently than if he'd played with any other skilled forward. Dubois didn't force feed the puck to Panarin every time he had it, but did give it to him for couple of nice feeds - including a one-timer that sailed wide.

"The thing I liked about [Dubois'] game tonight was that he just played his game," Tortorella said. "He wasn't overwhelmed playing with Panarin. He didn't look for him all the time. [He] made a great pass to him … but I don't think he was bothered at all by the positions he was put in, playing with one of our top guys."

Dubois said it was more enjoyable than nerve-wracking.

"It's fun," Dubois said. "I think everybody knows his skill. Everybody knows he's one of the most talented guys in the NHL, but when you think about me and 'Andy,' I think we're good at puck protection, working the corners, and I think that's one part of [Panarin's] game that people don't really notice as much. You look at him in the corner, it's hard to get the puck away from him."

Panarin also showed good chemistry with Oliver Bjorkstrand and center Alexander Wennberg in one game, prior to Wennberg missing the past three games with an upper-body injury. It will be interesting to see which combination Tortorella puts together when Wennberg returns.

For now, there's a chance this one might stick.

"I just didn't think [Nick Foligno] and Panarin were playing that well together, and I changed the lines around," Tortorella said. "I don't sit there and say, 'This is going to be a line that's going to have the puck and possession. We try to do some different things to spark some offense. I'm happy we score three goals tonight, but I don't overthink that. I'm not going to pretend I'm smart that way. We just try different people, and we're trying to find some chemistry with [Panarin]."

News & Notes

MOTTE MAKING GOOD IMPRESSION: Tyler Motte has played 10 games since being recalled from the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League. He has three points (two goals, one assist), and has caught Tortorella's attention with his skating and ability to generate scoring chances.

Motte finished with no points and a minus-1 plus/minus rating Monday against Buffalo, but stood out in the Jackets' 2-0 win this past Friday against the New York Rangers. According to naturalstattrick.com, Motte generated six individual scoring chances in that game, including four classified as high-danger chances.

Tortorella said the tally kept by Blue Jackets coaches was right around those numbers.

"He has five primary scoring chances, the last game [against the Rangers], according to our count when we break the game down," Tortorella said. "[He] led our team. Eventually, as he keeps going, I'd like to see maybe using him killing penalties at certain times. But he's played well since we brought him up."

Motte said his comfort level in the NHL has increased, after not making the Blue Jackets' roster out of training camp. Now, he's focused on staying in Columbus.

"My game really starts with my legs and my feet," Motte said. "When I'm thinking the game and I'm confident, those are the things that [are most effective]."

SAVARD RETURNS: Veteran defenseman David Savard looked good in his return to the Blue Jackets' lineup. Savard, a surprise healthy scratch against the Rangers, played 20:04 and finished with a plus-1 plus/minus rating, two shots on goal and one blocked shot.

He played 2:53 while shorthanded, helping Columbus kill three Buffalo power plays.

"Savvy's a really good player," Tortorella said. "He just has not played well. He needs to play to the capabilities that we know he has."

WHAT A TRIP: Jeff Marshall and his sons, Michael and Thomas, made the trip with the Blue Jackets as part of an experience auctioned for charity at a golf outing hosted by Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.

Proceeds from the auction went to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Columbus.

Marshall's employer won the bidding, and then gave him the trip because his sons play hockey. Thomas, 11, is a defenseman. Michael, 10, is a right wing.

They're from Cleveland, and Jeff Marshall is originally from Buffalo. That made the trip even more special, along with the fact it was Michael's first time attending an NHL game.

"They've both really been looking forward to it," Marshall said. "The Blue Jackets were really nice. I think the original auction was for two guests, and when they found out I had two little guys they said, 'Bring them both.' It couldn't have worked out better."

The Marshalls flew to Buffalo with the team, and the boys got autographs from all the players. They also chatted with some players, posed for pictures and were given Tortorella's lineup card.

Tortorella also did his postgame press conference with Thomas and Michael alongside him, encouraging reporters to ask them questions.

"Unbelievable," Marshall said. "It was just fantastic. You don't get to see that every day. [My sons] get it, and they're still kind of awestruck by it all."

QUOTEABLE "I think if we're honest right through the year, that's healthy for the team. There's no fine print in the bottom of a contract of a veteran guy that you can't be taken out. I haven't seen that fine print, and it's not going to happen." - Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, on his willingness to scratch a veteran if warranted. 

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