After a heart-breaking loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday, the Blue Jackets were right back at it Monday night, hosting the Atlantic Division leading Boston Bruins. The Jackets found success against the B’s, eventually winning the game 5-2. One thing that caught my eye: they seem to be finding line combinations that work.
Something that has long been absent for this club: consistency and comfort with the lines on a game-by-game basis. Really, aside from the occasional run of one or two lines under John Tortorella, I can honestly say I don’t remember the last time this team went with any kind of consistency in its forward lines. It’s been awhile. Part of that is due to the team’s turnover. Part of that is also due to youth. And, part of that is due to accountability and reliability – if you don’t have those things, you have to keep shuffling.
It seems like every team we see the Jackets play, utilizes line combinations of players who have been together for many years. Even the team they played last night, the Boston Bruins – who lost their top two centers over the summer – have managed to keep David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand on the same line. Hockey is a fast sport, and a big key to success is often knowing where your teammate will be when you get the puck on your stick. That half second of not having to look up and think, could make all the difference in a quick play.
Now, obviously, you always have to expect some shuffling. Guys will get injured. Or have off nights and need a shake-up. Things happen over the course of the season that forces line combinations to change. But after a lot of early tinkering, it seems like Pascal Vincent is starting to find forward lines that are working for the Blue Jackets.
Over the last few games, Johnny Gaudreau has been pretty consistently paired up with Kirill Marchenko and Boone Jenner. As we saw last season, that trio seems to work pretty well. Marchenko and Jenner are great at retrieving pucks and buying time for Gaudreau to make plays. And, they can both finish plays off with their scoring abilities.
Vincent has also kept his “second” line mostly intact, but with one recent change that seems to have sparked a lot of chemistry throughout the lineup. Adam Fantilli and Patrik Laine for the foundation, and they looked really good with Dmitri Voronkov on the other wing. Last night, Voronkov was moved off of that line and replaced with Alexandre Texier. While they didn’t stand out offensively, I thought they did a nice job holding their own – and, as is always the case with a line featuring Laine, they’re just one hot streak away from being wildly productive.
Voronkov joined Yegor Chinakhov and Cole Sillinger on what became a very entertaining “third” line. So entertaining, in fact, that they outscored the Bruins 3-0 last night. Voronkov scored off of a nice power move, taking the puck to the goal and banging it in short side. He then created a fantastic screen in front of Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman, allowing Ivan Provorov to score on an easy wrist shot. Not to be left behind, Chinakhov stole the puck and broke in after a long shift in the defensive zone, using his patented wrist shot to make it a 3-0 game. That defensive zone shift saw this line bend, but not break; and they had the talent to get it done at the other end. I really liked their game last night; there’s a lot of chemistry between these three youngsters.
Lastly, this leaves the “fourth” line as it should be. Eric Robinson, Sean Kuraly, and Justin Danforth provide speed, energy, two-way dominance, and a touch of offense to the lineup. They might not always be exciting, but when they’re on the ice, at the very least, nothing happens against. Which is honestly the best compliment you can give to a fourth line – they just get it done. Oh, and let’s not forget: they added the empty net goal at the end, also.
There are always changes to be made, of course. Jack Roslovic will return at some point. In the meantime, they’ll need to find places to plug Mathieu Olivier into the lineup. But at the very least, I feel like these line combinations deserve at least a little bit more of a look. They were solid up and down the lineup last night, and took it to one of the best teams in the NHL. Hopefully they can grow together.