Another year, another division title for the Washington Capitals. Alexander Ovechkin claimed his seventh Maurice Rocket Richard trophy, while his team closed out the season winning eight of their last ten to finish with a record of 49-26-7.
The annual regular season juggernaut has yet to get past the second round of the playoffs in the Ovechkin era. However, before they can worry about that, they first have to take care of business against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets had a rough start to the season, but turned it around as a result of steady goaltending and solid defense. Tortorella has his team right where he wants them as they are looking for their first ever postseason series win.
Let’s take a closer look at how the series breaks down.
Washington: The Capitals have one of the most dynamic forward groups in the NHL. Led by OV, they have the ability to put the puck in the back of the net with ease. They have depth down the middle with Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller,and Jay Beagle. Combine that talent with wingers such as Andre Burakovsky, TJ Oshie and Tom Wilson, and the caps are set on offense.
Columbus: Although they do not have a superstar, the Blue Jackets have enough depth to be productive. Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno and Artemi Panarin lead the way in scoring for Columbus, while players such as Boone Jenner and mid-season acquisition Thomas Vanek have crucial roles in facilitating the offense.
Advantage: Washington. The overall quality and depth of their forwards are simply better than what Columbus has at their disposal.
Washington: The Caps have a first four with plenty of playoff experience in John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and Brooks Orpik. The question mark on defense will be how effective will their third pairing can be. Christian Djoos, Michal Kempny, Madison Bowey and Jakub Jerabek will all be looking to make their impact felt during this crucial time of year.
Columbus: The Blue Jackets lean heavily on their elite pairing of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones. Do not be surprised if they each log nearly 30-minutes per game in this series. Ian Cole, Markus Nutivaara, Ryan Murray and David Savard round out the defensive unit for Tortorella’s squad.
Advantage: Columbus. It’s clear that the Caps do not have a pairing that matches the talent level of Werenski and Jones.
Washington: Under normal circumstances, the Caps would have the advantage in this category with the likes of Braden Holtby. The former Vezina Trophy winner has struggled this year with a 2.99 goals-against-average and a .907 save percentage. Philipp Grubauer ended the season as the Caps starter and they will continue to ride the hot hand for Game 1.
Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky has been the most consistent Blue Jacket all year with a 2.42 goals-against-average and a .921 save percentage. He has the capability of stealing a game or even a series, if he is locked in. The only issue is that Bobrovsky does not have the greatest track record in the playoffs.
Advantage: Washington. The Caps two capable goaltenders outweigh the inconsistency in the playoffs from Bobrovsky.
Washington: The Caps rely heavily on their top five players when it comes to power-play production. They had the seventh best power play in the NHL with a 22.5 conversion percentage and finished fifteenth in the league when it comes to the penalty kill.
Columbus: The Blue Jackets were abysmal across the board on special teams this season. Their power play finished 25th in the league and their penalty kill ranked 27th. This is not a good sign, as the Caps flourish on the power play.
Washington: Braden Holtby. If Holtby can regain his Vezina Trophy-winning form, the Capitals will be nearly unbeatable this postseason.
Columbus: Artemi Panarin. Panarin has the ability to be the difference-maker for the Blue Jackets in this series. If he gets hot, their offense can really get on a roll.
Washington in five. The Capitals have too much talent for the Blue Jackets. The only way this series goes any longer is if Washington has issues in net.