With the Capitals’ first round playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets (the first time the Caps have played Columbus in the playoffs) set to begin Thursday, both teams are preparing to go toe-to-toe with some of the most highly-skilled players in the league. In this piece, NoVa Caps takes a look at how the two teams’ Special Teams compare and players to watch on each roster.
Capitals: The Capitals’ power play was once again one of the Top 10 on the man-advantage, with a 22.5% effectiveness (55 goals on 244 opportunities) during the 2017-18 season. The ’17-18 season marked the fourth consecutive season (all under Head Coach Barry Trotz) the team has finished in the Top 10 in power play effectiveness. The Cap’s were led in power play scoring by defenseman John Carlson, who recorded 32 (four goals, 28 assists) points on the man-advantage. Captain Alex Ovechkin led the team with 17 power play goals. Philipp Grubauer led the Capitals’ goalies with a .957 save percentage on the man-advantage. The Caps allowed six shorthanded goals on the season.
Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets’ power play was among the worst in the league, finishing 25th with a 17.2% effectiveness (39 goals on 227 opportunities). The Blue Jackets were led in scoring on the man-advantage by budding star defenseman Seth Jones, who recorded 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists). Forward Artemi Panarin finished second with 21 (seven goals, 14 assists). Both Jones and Panarin tied for the team lead in power play goals with the aforementioned seven. Backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo led the team with a .900 save percentage on the man-advantage. The Blue Jackets allowed seven shorthanded goals this season.
Overview: When comparing the overall statistics, it appears the Capitals have a clear advantage with the man-advantage. However, the playoffs are an entirely different atmosphere to the regular season and both teams will likely look to spread the wealth when it comes to scoring on the power play. Ovechkin alone scored 31% of the Capitals’ power play markers (17/55 goals), and other members of the team must be willing to put the puck on net if the team is to be successful against what will almost certainly be a highly-motivated Blue Jackets team. With players such as Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Carlson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Panarin, Jones, Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg, Pierre Luc-Dubois, and Zach Werenski between the two rosters, the series shouldn’t disappoint when it comes to the man-advantage.
Capitals: After losing key penalty killers in defensemen Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt, and forwards Daniel Winnik and Justin Williams, the Capitals’ penalty kill fell from its seventh-place finish a season ago, dropping to 15th in 2017-18 with an 80.3% effectiveness (53 goals allowed on 269 penalty kills). The Capitals scored four shorthanded goals on the season. The Capitals were led in shorthanded ice time by defenseman Brooks Orpik, who averaged an astonishing 3:06 of ice time a night on the penalty kill. The second-most was Matt Niskanen, who averaged 2:43 a night on the penalty kill.
Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets’ penalty kill was even less effective than its power play, killing off just 76.2% of the power plays against them (51 goals on 214 power play opportunities against) to finish 27th in the league. The Blue Jackets were led in shorthanded ice time by defenseman David Savard, who averaged 2:12 a night while shorthanded. The Blue Jackets scored four shorthanded goals this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
As stated above, there will be no shortage of star power in this series and the special teams situations will showcase the best offensive and defensive players on each team. Here are some players to watch:
Alex Ovechkin: It is virtually a guarantee that the Blue Jackets will make shadowing Ovechkin on the power play a priority, but even that might not be enough. Ovechkin led the Capitals in power play markers with 17 and finished second in the league in the same category, just three behind league leader Patrik Laine. Ovechkin has scored 15 power play goals in 97 career playoff games and has 90 points (46 goals, 44 assists) overall. With his drive to succeed stronger than ever, Ovechkin will almost certainly bring his “A” Game every single night.
John Carlson: With 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists) during the regular season (most among NHL blueliners), the former first-round pick will certainly be one to watch both on the power play and on the penalty kill. 32 (four goals, 28 assists) of Carlson’s 68 points came with the man-advantage and as the team’s undisputed power play quarterback, Carlson’ ability to move the puck will be key to the success of the Capitals on the man-advantage. Not only are his passes to Ovechkin brutally accurate, but Carlson possesses a shot that can sting defenders and leave goalies wondering what happened.
Nicklas Backstrom: After the Capitals’ second consecutive loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs last spring, center Nicklas Backstrom wasn’t afraid to hold the team accountable. Entering the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Backstrom will certainly have some motivation to do his part in helping the Caps win it all. Of his 71 regular season points, 26 (seven goals, 19 assists) of them came while the Capitals were up a man.
Jay Beagle: Arguably the Capitals’ best faceoff man and one of their better defensive forwards, Beagle has long been a trustworthy member of the Capitals’ penalty killing unit. Heading into a contract year, a strong defensive showing in the postseason could likely help his cause when it comes to the negotiating table. Beagle won 58.5% of his faceoffs this season, which led the Capitals, and won 53.9% of faceoffs on the penalty kill. Beagle also blocked 14 shots while shorthanded in addition to five takeaway, all while averaging 2:31 of shorthanded ice time a night, which ranked fourth on the team this season. In 62 career playoff games, Beagle has won 54.2% of his faceoffs.
Seth Jones: A former first-round pick, Jones blossomed into a highly-skilled offensive weapon for Columbus, particularly with the man-advantage. Jones’ 24 (seven goals, 17 assists) points on the power play led all Columbus skaters and he averaged two power play goals a game this season for a unit that struggled mightily all season.
Artemi Panarin: One of the bright young offensive stars in the NHL, Panarin finished second in power play scoring with 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) but finished tied with Jones for the team lead in power play goals with seven. Panarin averaged 2:56 of power play time per game for Head Coach John Tortorella, which led the Blue Jackets for the season and will likely see substantial playing time against the Caps.
David Savard: One of the Blue Jackets’ best penalty killers, Savard averaged 2:12 of shorthanded ice time during the regular season, most among all Blue Jackets skaters. During the regular season, Savard blocked 33 shots while on the penalty kill in addition to nine takeaways. In 11 career playoff games, Savard has blocked two shots while shorthanded.
By Michael Fleetwood