There’s a sign above the door inside the Blue Jackets’ locker room that rookie forward Pierre-Luc Dubois is used to seeing by now.
Written on it is the motto coach John Tortorella preaches on a daily basis to his Blue Jackets, the youngest team by average age in the entire National Hockey League. It says, “Safe Is Death,” and is the creed Tortorella would like imprinted in his players’ minds.
Take some risks, calculated as they may be. Reap the rewards.
Dubois followed the plan to perfection Tuesday, and scored his second career NHL goal because of it – a highlight-reel number off a breakaway at 4:37 of the third period in the Jackets’ 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators.
“It was beautiful,” said Columbus captain Nick Foligno, who had a great view of it on the ice. “I mean, that’s what he brings and we see it. I think as he gets more confident in his abilities, and understanding who he is in this league, you’re going to see more of that from P-L.”
If you asked P.K. — Subban, that is — he’d probably agree.
Subban was the “defenseman,” as Dubois put it, who cut through the neutral zone and became a target. Dubois stripped him of the puck, seconds after coming over the boards for his first shift in the third.
In a blink, the 19-year old forward was at full speed, racing toward the Nashville net with the puck on his stick. In a matter of seconds, he showed everybody why the Blue Jackets took him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
As he approached Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, who’d stonewalled the Blue Jackets and needed just one more shutout to have the most by a Finnish-born goaltender in NHL history, Dubois did something he never does.
“Normally on a breakaway, I never deke,” he said. “I always shoot, but I guess I just chose to deke and it went in.”
Safe is death, after all.
A risk yielded reward. A deke kept Rinne tied with Miikka Kiprusoff with the most career NHL shutouts (44) by Finnish-born goalies.
It wasn’t the first time Dubois left his comfort zone on the play, either. That happened as soon as his skates hit the ice.
“I got off the bench, and normally the first guy’s supposed to go wide,” Dubois said. “But I saw the defenseman coming up, and I knew he was going to make a move. I got lucky, I guess, and chose the right side and got a stick on it.”
The rest is something you can watch on NHL Network for the next 24 hours, or during some segment where they go over the season’s slickest plays.
In the span of four seconds, Dubois showed the potential he has built into him. The trick now is to keep building off the spark of his recent play, which the Blue Jackets were unable to do Tuesday.
Dubois’ teammates had their chances to beat Rinne themselves, but just couldn’t.
The Predators’ goalie, who’s nimble and takes up a lot of space, made some great saves. The Jackets also let him off the hook a couple times, epitomized by Zach Werenski with 3:31 left in regulation.
After a quick feed from Foligno, Werenski had a wide opening of the net to target during a late power play. Instead of tying the game 2-2, his attempt at a one-timer sailed wide right from the lower half of the right circle.
Calle Jarnkrok’s rebound goal at 14:25 stood up as the game-winner for Nashville. Viktor Arvidsson sealed it for the Predators by scoring into an empty net for his second point of the game.
It was the third straight defeat for Columbus (9-6-1), which got veteran forward Cam Atkinson back after missing four games with a lower-body injury and illness. The Blue Jackets have a day off Wednesday, practice Thursday and will try to nix their losing skid Friday, when they host the Carolina Hurricanes.
Meanwhile, they keep learning more about the big kid from Quebec. Dubois is unlocking his potential with each bit of confidence he gains, and it’s beginning to show up more often in games.
“That was pretty special,” Atkinson said of the goal. “He showed some pretty good skill there pickpocketing Subban. That’s a pretty good player, too, on their end. Then to go in and finish like he did, it’s a primetime play right there, a primetime goal.”
Tortorella enjoyed it, too, just not the final score.
“It’s such a nice goal, but what I liked was his acceleration, because I thought he was going to get caught,” Tortorella said. “But, yeah, that’s a pretty good goal. I wish it stood for something tonight, but again, the kid is doing a lot of good things right now and he’s growing day-by-day. We’ll see where it goes.”
News & Notes
FEELING BETTER: Atkinson’s reason for being placed on injured reserve was a lower-body injury that forced him to leave a game early against St. Louis on Oct. 28 at Scottrade Center. He also became sick after a home game Oct. 30 against the Boston Bruins, when he tested the injury in warmups and couldn’t play.
Atkinson said he exprienced flu-like symptoms, which also factored into his absence during the Jackets’ road trip that concluded Monday in New York.
“I was going to play the next game after the Bruins game (Nov. 2 against the Florida Panthers), but I got sick,” Atkinson said. “I didn’t feel right, even after the Bruins game. I went home and felt like I was getting a fever. Sure enough, woke up with a 102 [degree fever]. I was literally in bed for 3 days. I couldn’t get out of bed.”
Atkinson lost eight pounds.
“My wife was like, ‘I wish I could get the flu,'” he said. “It was tough. I couldn’t control it. I got an opportunity to watch the guys on TV, but it’s never fun watching. But I feel better and I’m ready to rock and roll now.”
He showed as much against the Predators, playing a career-high 23:45 on a night that Tortorella dressed seven defensemen and 11 forwards. Atkinson, one of those who was double shifting, will also be the lone Blue Jackets player on the ice Wednesday, working with assistant coach Kenny McCudden.
PENALTY KILL RETURNS TO FORM: The one area Columbus hasn’t had to worry about this season is penalty killing. Monday night at Madison Square Garden, there were issues. Three power-play goals led the New York Rangers to a 5-3 comeback win against the Blue Jackets.
The Columbus PK units were eager to get back on the ice Tuesday, and made up for the mistakes with a stellar effort. The Jackets killed off all four Nashville power-plays, and have killed 22 of 24 on home ice this season (91.7 percent).
The Blue Jackets are also missing Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert, two of their best penalty-killers. Atkinson played 3:26 shorthanded minutes against the Predators, which is more than usual for him. As for other PK specialists, it was about pride.
“That’s our job,” defenseman Seth Jones said. “Our job is to keep the puck out of the net when we’re on the penalty kill. That’s what they put us out there for. We didn’t do a very good job [Monday]. You can blame the penalties, but at the end of the day we’ve got to kill those off. That’s our job. That’s why they put us out there.”
HARTNELL RETURNS: During a stoppage after an icing call 3:20 into the game, Predators forward Scott Hartnell was welcomed back to Nationwide Arena for the first time since signing with Nashville as an unrestricted free agent July 1, the first day of free agency. Hartnell had 146 points (64 goals, 82 assists) in 234 regular-seaspn games over three seasons with the Blue Jackets. Hartnell, who returned to the team that selected him No.6 overall in the 2000 NHL Draft, was shown on the video board with a welcome message. He was given a round of applause.