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The education of Blue Jackets’ Pierre-Luc Dubois

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As only John Tortorella can do, in the span of 20 seconds before a late November game he went from saying Pierre-Luc Dubois’ game against the Toronto Maple Leafs “sucked” to then describing him as arguably the team’s most complete player this season.

That kind of criticism comes with the territory for a young player who plays under an old-school coach like Tortorella. It’s a young players’ NHL and the mistakes will be there, but for the 20-year-old Dubois, he’s turned himself into a reliable top-line center for the Columbus Blue Jackets after being thrust into the role unexpectedly.

When Tortorella and his coaching staff decided to move Dubois, then only 20 games into his rookie season, up to the No. 1  center position a year ago, it was because the team needed help in that spot. They were worried at first handing such an inexperienced player that kind of responsibility, but he found his footing and established himself in that job.

“Quite honestly, he made the coaches look like fools overthinking that because he took the responsibility, thrived in it and keeps growing as a player,” Tortorella said.

It helps putting Dubois between veteran producers in Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson. The line has played 586:24 even strength minutes together since last season, helping drive possession (54.17 percent Corsi) and creating 39 goals together, per Natural Stat Trick.

“They’re two real good players. As a line we play well together,” Dubois told Pro Hockey Talk recently. “We all have a different style of play that complements the other ones really well.”

Size and strength helps accelerate the development process in order to become a top-flight NHL centerman. After getting that first experience as a No. 1 center last season, Dubois knew he had to get stronger in order to help win face-offs, drive to the net and win those one-on-one battles, so that became his focus over the summer. Just peeking at his Instagram page and you’ll see the short videos of his off-season workouts, adding weight and getting up to 207 lbs. on his 6-foot-4 frame.

In this era of the NHL where small and speedy is succeeding, bigger players have to adjust in order to survive. It took Dubois nearly a quarter of last year to figure out how to use his size to his advantage after making the transition from junior hockey.

“I got my first goal in my first game and then I scored [again] in my 16th game, so it took me a long time to figure out what I could and couldn’t do,” he said. “Even today, I’m still figuring [things] out. I’m stronger than last year, so I’m still figuring some stuff out like puck protection.”

Those abilities were on display during the build-up to his goal Saturday night against the New York Islanders:

Representing Canada at the IIHF World Championship in Denmark last spring afforded Dubois the opportunity to further his education. Coming off a 20-goal, 48-point season, he discussed face-offs with Ryan O’Reilly, who’s won the tenth-most draws (6,621) since entering the NHL in 2009-10 at a 55.3 percent success rate. He was also able to get some tips for playing in the offensive zone from Connor McDavid, who knows a thing or two about succeeding in that area of the ice. 

The entire experience allowed him to watch the habits of plenty of veterans like O’Reilly, McDavid, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Kyle Turris, and Josh Bailey. The faceoff talk is slowly paying off as Dubois’ success in the dot is up to 44.6 percent from 43.8 percent last season. Through 27 games he already has 13 goals and recorded 25 points in nearly two extra minutes of ice time per night. There’s still work to be done, but the strides that have been taken have impressed everyone around the Blue Jackets.

“His ability to pick up things and not feel the added pressures as a young player and get nervous about it, he’s uncanny that way,” said Tortorella. “He accepts it. He wants more. It’s a really good thing for us right now with Luc, and I can see it getting better as we keep on pushing forward.”

Dubois admits that it took him a month into last season to really get going. He wanted a better start for the 2018-19 season but it took him a handful of games to “get the right mindset going.” He says his game preparation has improved and his practices have gotten better.

“It’s not that I wasn’t working hard, I just wasn’t working the proper way,” he said. “Now the guys and the staff here has helped me a lot to refocus.”

As the Blue Jackets approach a summer where they could lose two franchise players in Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, Dubois, the youngest player on the roster, has demonstrated that he’s part of the future, a piece to build around. He’s shown growth through 109 NHL games and proven he’s willing to adapt and make changes when necessary.

“Right now, I think I’ve been playing better than last year,” Dubois said. “I took another step even since the start of the season. But I still have a long ways to go. Whether it’s being consistent, with the puck, without the puck, being a centerman is not just about scoring. That’s fun, that’s what everybody talks about, but to help your team win you’ve got to do a lot more than that. You’ve got to sacrifice some offense for the team.

“To do that on a consistent basis, that’s the next step. Play well in the D zone, help the Ds out, support everybody on the ice, get the right reads. It’s a long process, but that’s what’s going to make me a better player.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Hornqvist makes history; Flames score nine

Associated Press
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Three stars

1. Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins

He scored the Pittsburgh Penguins’ fastest-ever hat trick on hat night.

Not bad from the 230th and final player drafted in the 2005 NHL Draft.

Hornqvist’s goals came pretty much the same way they always do: by working hard. He cleaned up some trash in front of the net, had a knuckle puck fool a goalie and then saw his shot on the hat trick goal re-direct off a defenseman. Hornqvist added an assist for the four-point night.

2. Sean Monahan & Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

Look, I have to cheat here. Tuesday was a wild night and the wildest game came in Calgary (highlights here), where the Flames won 9-6 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s right, 15 goals, and Monahan and Gaudreau each had four-point nights to help propel the Flames past their Blue Jackets.

Both Monahan and Gaudreau scored twice and added two helpers in the game. Matthew Tkachuk had a goal and two assists. Mark Giordano had three helpers.

3. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers 

Luongo has dealt with a couple injuries now this year and still comes back with a vengeance each time.

Lu returned from a five-game hiatus due to a knee injury and stopped 33 shots for his 77th career shutout (and first of the season) in a 5-0 win against the Boston Bruins.

Luongo returned after a month off in early November and steered the Panthers to a win against the Winnipeg Jets in Finland. He plays well in these games coming off a layoff, but the Panthers need him to stay healthy from here on out. Tuesday was a good example as to why.

Other notable performances:

  • Cam Atkinson extended his point streak to 11 games with a hat trick of his own. On any normal night in the NHL, Atkinson would be among the three stars. Tuesday wasn’t a normal night.
  • Ditto for Frans Nielsen, who scored a natural hatty. [Video]
  • Auston Matthews scored an incredible goal in overtime to help the Toronto Maple Leafs past the Buffalo Sabres by a 4-3 margin. Matthews scored earlier in the game and added an assist. He’s got 15 goals in 14 games this season and five goals and two assists in three games since returning from injury.
  • Jack Eichel scored twice, bringing the Sabres from 2-1 down to a 3-2 lead in the third period.
  • Eddie Pasquale, 28, got his first win in his NHL debut. It wasn’t pretty, but he turned aside 19 of 24 shots in through 65 minutes and two of three Red Wings shooters in the shootout. [Highlights]
  • Max Domi had two goals and an assist as the Montreal Canadiens downed the Ottawa Senators 5-2.
  • Sticking in Tampa, Mathieu Joseph had two goals and an assist in the Lightning win.
  • Mike Hoffman had two goals for the Panthers. Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and two assists.
  • Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist. [Highlights]
  • Adin Hill keeps winning. He’s now 4-0-0 in five games played this season after making 25 saves.
  • Nate Schmidt scored twice and added an assist in a 5-3 win over his former team in the Washington Capitals.

Highlights of the night

Hornqvist makes history:

Auston Matthews doing the impossible:

Matheson goes coast-to-coast:

One-handed:

Factoids

Scores

Panthers 5, Bruins 0

Jets 3, Islanders 1

Penguins 6, Avalanche 3

Flames 9, Blue Jackets 6

Maple Leafs 4, Sabres 3 (OT)

Canadiens 5, Senators 2

Lightning 6, Red Wings 5 (SO)

Wild 3, Canucks 2

Golden Knights 5, Capitals 3

Coyotes 2, Kings 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Power Rankings: The Sabres are back

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There is a new team at the top of this week’s PHT Power Rankings, and it is probably not a team you expected to be there at any point this season.

Yes, it is the Buffalo Sabres.

It has been a long time coming for Sabres fans after watching years of terrible hockey. Just for some perspective on where this team was prior to this season, no team in the NHL (Vegas excluded) had won fewer games than Buffalo over the previous five years. And it’s not just that the Sabres were at the bottom of the wins list during that stretch. They were at the bottom by a significant margin, having won 18 fewer games than the next worst team (the Arizona Coyotes). Heck, even the Edmonton Oilers won 30 more games than them. If you are 30 wins behind that organization, you know things are bad.

Thanks to a nine-game winning streak entering this week, the Sabres now have one of the best records in the league, are off to their best start in more than a decade, and with 16 wins in their first 24 games have positioned themselves nicely for a potential run to the playoffs.

During the five-year stretch between 2013-14 and 2017-18 there were 20 teams that won at least 16 of their first 24 games. Only two of them, the 2015-16 Montreal Canadiens and 2017-18 St. Louis Blues, failed to make the playoffs that season. And the Canadiens’ failure to make the postseason was due mostly to a devastating injury to starting goaltender Carey Price.

So, yes, Buffalo, it’s not too early to start believing in your team. It might finally be good again.

As for the rest of the Power Rankings…

The Elites

1. Buffalo Sabres — Do I honestly believe the Sabres are the best team in hockey this season? No, I do not. But for the purposes of this week’s power rankings I have to give some love to a team that as of this moment has one of the best records in the league and has won nine games in a row (and 10 of 11). Buffalo fans, you’ve watched a lot of disgustingly bad hockey over the years. You deserve a fun team to watch, and you have earned it. Enjoy this.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — They just keep finding more stars in the draft where other teams do not. The latest example is Brayden Point who enters the week as one of the top-five scorers in the league.

3. Nashville Predators — Injuries are starting to mount for the Predators but they have enough depth to overcome them for a short period of time in the regular season.

One step below the elites

4. Boston Bruins — Speaking of great teams and depth, that has always been the big question for this Bruins team. Well, they are currently playing without Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Charlie McAvoy and do you know what they are still doing? Winning. Jaroslav Halak deserves a ton of credit for the way he has played this season, but to be without one of the best two-way centers in the league and their top two defenders and still find ways to scratch out two points on most nights is a big accomplishment. Especially in that division. Since Bergeron went down the Bruins have collected seven out of a possible eight points.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs — They are one of the most dynamic offensive teams in the league and have only received 11 total games from Auston Matthews and William Nylander, their second-and third-leading scorers from a year ago. Imagine what they will look like when they both get in the lineup.

6. Minnesota Wild — With 20 points in his first 20 games this has been a great bounce back year so far for Zach Parise.

7. Winnipeg Jets — Remember When Patrik Laine had just three goals in his first 12 games? He now has 16 goals in his past 10 games, including three hat tricks, one of which was a million dollar five-goal game.

Making Their Move

8. Washington Capitals — Here come the Champs! They have won six of their past seven games and are starting to quickly climb the standings.

9. Colorado Avalanche –– I had the Avalanche as a mystery team two weeks ago, and they still kind of are. But that top line is absolutely unstoppable.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — Cam Atkinson is red hot right now offensively with a seven-game goal scoring streak. This is still one of the more interesting teams in the league to watch from a distance given their status as a likely playoff team, and the fact their two best players are free agents after the season. Not an enviable position for their front office to be in.

11. Vegas Golden Knights — This is a very strange team. As a second-year franchise they are not particularly deep and injuries have crushed them this season, but they are also playing a lot better than their record indicates. They are starting to get the results now. Given the sorry state of the Pacific Division I still think they have a great shot to win it this season. The schedule really softens up for them over the next couple of weeks as well.

[Related: Stanley Cup Finalists are heating up]

The Middle Ground

12. Calgary Flames — Matthew Tkachuk just keeps getting better offensively and, somehow, more annoying for his opponents.

13. San Jose Sharks — Do not like where they are at this point given the talent they have on the roster, but they have got to start getting more out of Martin Jones. Getting him back to his expected level would do wonders for this team.

14. New York Islanders — Their MVP so far is Thomas Greiss. That is not something I expected to be typing at any point this season.

15. Pittsburgh Penguins — It has not always been pretty but with six out of a possible eight points in their past four games they might be starting to get back on track. Their record when they have all three of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Derick Brassard in the lineup is what should be expected of them this season. It is when one of them is out that everything seems to go wrong.

16. Detroit Red Wings — Give this team some credit, after a miserable start to the season they are 9-3-1 in their past 13 games. Not sure it is going to last, but they have been better than expected.

17. New York Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist in the month of November is 5-1-1 with a .924 save percentage. King Henrik can still dominate at times.

18. Carolina Hurricanes — I feel like the middle of the pack is a good spot for this team. They go through stretches where they look like a team that is going to realize its potential, and then they still have moments like their game in New York on Saturday night where they look like the team they have been for the past seven years. Overall, though, they are 5-2-1 in their past eight games.

19. Dallas Stars — It is awfully difficult to replace one of the league’s best defenders (John Klingberg) and a pretty good starting goalie (Ben Bishop) when they are out of the lineup due to injury.

20. Montreal Canadiens –Tomas Tatar and Max Domi are still massive surprises, but the Canadiens have suddenly lost eight of their past 12 games, including four in a row.

21. Florida Panthers — Starting to look like that five-game winning streak a couple of weeks ago was just a mirage. Probably one of the most disappointing teams in the league, especially when you consider how much Mike Hoffman has produced for them.

22. Ottawa Senators — Their games are the NHL answer to a Big XII college football game. Nobody plays defense. Or shows much interest in playing defense.

23. Philadelphia Flyers — The Ron Hextall era is officially over. Sometimes the Flyers looked great, sometimes they looked awful. Put it all together and you have a completely average team.

[Related: Flyers fire GM Ron Hextall]

24. Anaheim Ducks — Ducks goalies have the fourth best overall save percentage in the league. They are only 15th in goals against average. Do you know what that means? The team in front of the goalies is playing horribly.

The Basement

25. Chicago Blackhawks — Dylan Strome may never be the player he was expected to be when he was selected third overall in 2015, but I love the Blackhawks’ gamble to trade for him. Maybe he and Alex DeBrincat can recapture some of the magic they had during their junior days.

26. Arizona Coyotes — They were starting to look like they were turning a corner, and then they lost eight out of 10 with the most recent two (a 5-1 loss to Colorado, followed by a 6-1 loss to Calgary — both at home) being especially ugly.

27. Vancouver Canucks — The best possible outcome for Canucks fans this season is continued development and highlights from Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser (when he is healthy), and a team around them that still keeps them in the Jack Hughes derby. That is happening.

28. Edmonton Oilers — The Ken Hitchcock era is not off to a great start with back-to-back losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles.

29. New Jersey Devils — The Devils are only 5-10-3 since that 4-0 start.

30. St. Louis Blues — The Ryan O'Reilly trade has worked out great. Unfortunately for the Blues that is the only thing that has worked for them this season.

31. Los Angeles Kings — Ilya Kovalchuk has not recorded a point in nine games and spent Sunday night on the fourth-line, logging just six minutes of ice time. Yikes.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Martinook gets first hatty; Skinner continues heroics

Associated Press
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Three stars

1. Jordan Martinook, Carolina Hurricanes

Martinook put the Hurricanes on his back with a hat-trick on seven shots that helped them to their third straight win. It took Martinook 269 NHL games to get it, scoring his third into an empty net late in the game to make sure the Florida Panthers had no chance of getting back into the game.

2. Calvin Pickard, Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers needed this one. A 31-save shutout by Pickard helped the Flyers end a four-game skid. The Flyers looked the part of a team determined, putting up 46 shots in their 4-0 win. For all that Philly’s crease has endured this season, Pickard provided a bright spot in Friday’s matinee on NBC.

3. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres

Who are you going to call when you need another late comeback? Well, it’s gotta be one of the hottest players in the NHL at the moment. Jeff Skinner scored his 16th with 2:26 remaining in the third period to send Buffalo to overtime against the Montreal Canadiens and then scored 3:06 into the extra frame on the player to notch his 17th goal of the season and, more importantly, Buffalo’s eighth straight win.

Other notable performances:

  • It’s not every night a shutout doesn’t cut it as a star, but it’s not every night that there is the maximum number of games in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury regained the shutout lead in the NHL with his fourth in a 29-save effort for the Golden Knights. He did so against the Flames, who had 13 goals in their previous two games.
  • Speaking of shutouts, Aaron Dell posted his second in as many starts after making 19 saves in a 4-0 win for the Sharks over the Canucks. He blanked the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 17.
  • Two goals and an assist for Sean Couturier in the Flyers win. He’s on a three-game point streak.
  • Another strong outing for John Gibson, stopping 27 shots in a 2-1 win for the Ducks over Edmonton in overtime.
  • Rickard Rakell had the OT winner in that game and also assisted on the Ducks’ other goal in regulation.
  • Nino Niederreiter took a fourth-line demotion in stride, scoring a goal and adding an assist on Eric Staal‘s game-winner as the Wild came back from 2-0 down in the third period to beat the Jets 4-2.
  • Tom Wilson had a goal and an assist to push his point streak to four games. He’s got three goals and five assists in six games this season.
  • Thomas Griess stopped 39 shots in a 4-3 overtime win for the Islanders over the Devils.
  • Cam Atkinson has scored in six straight games.
  • Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog each recorded two-point nights because that’s what they do.
  • Craig Anderson faced 54 shots, stopping 48 of them as Ottawa decided not to play defense in front of their starter.
  • Erik Karlsson had a goal and two assists for the Sharks.

Injury news

Highlights of the night

For this one, we go back to one of the day’s matinees

Eat your heart out, Brian Burke:

Martinook’s hatty:

Boyle scores on Hockey Fights Cancer night in New Jersey:

Madness in Minnesota:

Factoids

Scores

Flyers 4, Rangers 0

Ducks 2, Oilers 1 (OT)

Wild 4, Jets 2

Sabres 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)

Islanders 4, Devils 3 (OT)

Capitals 3, Red Wings 1

Golden Knights 2, Flames 0

Blue Jackets 4, Maple Leafs 2

Bruins 2, Penguins 1 (OT)

Lightning 4, Blackhawks 2

Hurricanes 4, Panthers 1

Avalanche 5, Coyotes 1

Blues 6, Predators 2

Stars 6, Senators 4

Sharks 4, Canucks 0


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Jarnkrok, Atkinson post hat tricks; Karlsson gets first for Sharks

Associated Press
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Three stars

1. Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets

Three goals for the hat trick and an assist to cap off a four-point night for Atkinson in a 4-1 win for the Blue Jackets against the Carolina Hurricanes. Not too shabby. Atkinson helped Columbus to its second-best start through 20 games in franchise history. The Blue Jackets have won three in a row and are sitting in the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Atkinson is rocking a four-game point streak now with six goals and nine points during that time. He’s currently on pace to eclipse the 40-goal mark, which would be a career-high. He had 35 two years ago.

Atkinson is now tied with Rick Nash for most hat tricks in franchise history at five.

2. Calle Jarnkrok, Nashville Predators

Jarnkork scored quite the hat trick himself on Saturday.

One of his goals came at even strength, another on the power play and one shorthanded. There should be a special name for that, like the hat-hat trick or something (terrible, right?) or maybe the three-phase hatty? I’m striking out.

Whatever ever way you slice it, it was no small feat. Since 2013-14, only seven players — including Jarnkrok — have done it. Not bad for your first hatty.

3. Aaron Dell, San Jose Sharks 

San Jose got a Dell on Saturday night, and it stopped 30 shots for his fourth career shutout in a 4-0 win against the St. L

Not a bad purchase.

Dell exacted a bit of revenge after he was between the pipes on Nov. 9 when the Sharks were blanked by the same Blues team 4-0 on Nov. 9.

Other notable performances:

  • The Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames can both take a bow. What a game.
  • We almost need to create a ‘Mike Hoffman Streak Watch’ section or something like that. Regardless, the man pushed his point streak to 15 games on Saturday with a goal and an assist, extending the franchise record.
  • Carey Price is taking a beating in the media but he’s been solid over his past two games, including stopping 36-of-38 in a 3-2 win.
  • Henrik Lundqvist captured win No. 438 to pass Jacques Plante for seventh on the NHL’s all-time list.
  • Mark Stone had two goals in a 6-4 win for the Ottawa Senators over the slumping Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • Chris Kreider is a big reason why the New York Rangers are near the top of the Metropolitan Division. He had a three-point night, scoring and adding two assists.
  • Speaking of the Metropolitan, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 30-of-31 and has now won in his past four appearances. His Blue Jackets are in first place.
  • The Buffalo Sabres are good. Rasmus Dahlin is also good and he had a goal and an assist to help the Buffalo Sabres to their fifth straight win.
  • Elias Pettersson scored again, so Vancouver can breathe again.
  • Erik Karlsson finally scored his first of the season in his 21st game, so San Jose can also stop holding its breath.
  • Jaroslav Halak continues to defy anyone and everyone’s expectations. He stopped 31 shots for his seventh win of the season. He’s got a .935 save percentage and a 2.07 goals-against average.

Highlights of the night

Erik Karlsson dropped his first goal with the San Jose Sharks. It was quite the rocket.

Jarnkrok’s hatty:

And Atkinson’s:

Factoids

Scores
Lightning 6, Flyers 5 (OT)
Red Wings 3, Devils 2 (OT)
Sabres 3, Wild 2
Canadiens 3, Canucks 2
Senators 6, Penguins 4
Rangers 4, Panthers 2
Blue Jackets 4, Hurricanes 1
Bruins 2, Coyotes 1
Predators 5, Kings 3
Flames 4, Oilers 2
Sharks 4, Blues 0


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck