The regular season is finally over, which means it’s finally time for the two-month journey through the NHL playoffs. After all the dust settled, the Capitals got placed in a first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who finished the season 45-30-7. This series is bound to be a close one – much more so than the standings may suggest, at least – and is definitely worth a bit of discussing and analyzing.
Before diving into the matchup between these two squads, it’s worth taking a look at each of their respective lines (all according to rosterresource.com).
- Artemi Panarin–Pierre-Luc Dubois–Cam Atkinson
- Boone Jenner–Alexander Wennberg–Thomas Vanek
- Oliver Bjorkstrand–Nick Foligno–Josh Anderson
- Matt Calvert–Mark Letestu–Brandon Dubinsky
- Zachary Werenski–Seth Jones
- Ian Cole–David Savard
- Markus Nutivaara–Ryan Murray
- Sergei Bobrovsky
- Joonas Korpisalo
- Alex Ovechkin–Evgeny Kuznetsov–Tom Wilson
- Andre Burakovsky–Nicklas Backstrom–Brett Connolly
- Jakub Vrana–Lars Eller–Devante Smith-Pelly
- Shane Gersich–Chandler Stephenson–Alex Chiasson
- Michal Kempny–John Carlson
- Dmitry Orlov–Matt Niskanen
- Brooks Orpik–Christian Djoos
- Braden Holby
- Philipp Grubauer
There is very little separating these two teams. Both have some superstars and world class goaltenders, as well as a history of struggling in the playoffs. Offensively, it’s hard to tell who has the edge. The Blue Jackets have an abundance of young guns, including Dubois, Wennberg, and Bjorkstrand, as well as some more aged goal scorers like Cam Atkinson and Artemi Panarin. Similarly, the Capitals are very strong up front, boasting the likes of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie (currently listed as day-to-day), and Kuznetsov. They too have a few up-and-coming youngsters like Vrana, and potentially Gersich. It’s not an easy call to make, but I do think Washington has the edge up front. Despite having more depth, the veterans for the Caps provide more than enough firepower to give them an advantage offensively, and their high-tier scoring will be a key in the series.
When looking at each team’s defense, it is clear that Columbus has the advantage. Sure, Washington’s defense has done well this year – probably better than expected after losing both Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner, in all honesty – but it still doesn’t compare to Columbus. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are one of the best defensive pairings in the entire league, and neither has turned 25 yet. Ian Cole, despite receiving some criticism in Pittsburgh, brings in some serious playoff experience, and the team’s bottom three are a pretty significant step up from Washington’s.
So, if Washington takes the cake for offense, and Columbus for defense, then it should come down to goaltending, right? Well, that’s where it gets a bit interesting for both squads. For Columbus, Sergei Bobrovsky is often the reason that the team is in games, and has stolen a few over the course of the regular season. The playoffs, however, are a different story. Bobrovsky has a history of being only a shell of his regular-season-self, and puts much more pressure on the team in front of him to score goals, something Columbus struggled with in the beginning of the year. Washington has a new story developing in net. Braden Holtby, the long-time starter and playoff veteran for Washington, has had pedestrian numbers all season, and has played rather poorly over the past two months. Meanwhile, his backup Philipp Grubauer has been the team’s MVP since mid-February. The choice in net is obviously up to the coaches, and it is going to be an extremely important one, as this series is going to be one of the tightest of any first round series, and losing a game because of a poor start in net is not going to end well for Washington. So, who has the edge in net? It really is tough to say, but for now it has to be Columbus. Until Bobrovsky plays poorly in a game or two in these playoffs, its unfair to assume he will continue to play poorly, especially considering the limited number of playoff games he has played. It is also hard to believe that the Capitals would start Grubauer over Holtby, which seems like the best option considering both netminders’ recent play.
In the end, this series is very hard to call, and should be one of the best the first round has to offer. Get ready to buckle those seatbelts and grab your popcorn, because the Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally upon us.
Featured image courtesy of @NHL/Twitter