Tonight, the Capitals and Blue Jackets will face off in Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is the first meeting ever between the two franchises in the postseason.
For the Capitals franchise, they are still searching for their first Stanley Cup in the Alex Ovechkin era. For the Blue Jackets franchise, this will mark the first time the organization has made the postseason in back-to-back seasons.
Before the two hockey clubs drop the puck, there will be several deciding factors that could dictate the outcome of the series. Let’s dive in to what will likely decide the series between the two franchises:
Philipp Grubauer is getting the nod in net over Braden Holtby to begin the playoffs for the Capitals. Grubauer has been one of the best goalies in the second half of the season, as he recorded 15 wins in 28 starts. Grubauer finished the regular season with a 2.35 goals against average and .923 save percentage. Grubauer has only played in 2 games in the postseason, so his postseason sample size is very small.
Across from Grubauer in the Blue Jackets cage will be Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky has two Vezina Trophies and multiple All-Star appearances under his belt. The established Jackets netminder had another great season for Columbus in 2017-18. Bobrovsky recorded 37 wins in 65 starts, and recorded a 2.42 goals against average and .921 save percentage. Even though Bobrovsky has had plenty of regular season success, it has not translated well to his postseasons. Bobrovsky only has 3 wins in 18 postseason games. He has recorded a 3.63 goals against average and .887 save percentage in his postseason career.
In this goalie matchup, there are two goaltenders that are looking to prove something in the postseason. Bobrovsky will be looking to improve his postseason numbers and propel the Jackets to their first ever appearance to the second round of the playoffs. Grubauer will be looking to secure a starting goaltending job for the future, whether it will be with the Capitals or elsewhere.
It is one of the most key areas that can dictate a playoff series. Heading into the round one matchup, the Capitals have the advantage here. The Capitals powerplay finished 7th in the league at 22.5%, and the Jackets powerplay finished 25th in the league at 17.1%.
The penalty kill was rough at times for the Capitals, but managed to finish above 80% effective, 15th in the NHL. The Jackets penalty kill finished at 76.2% effective, which was in the bottom five in the NHL.
Alex Ovechkin and Artemi Panarin are the two biggest threats for each respective club on the powerplay. If Ovechkin or Panarin get going on special teams, that can propel one of these teams to victory.
Faceoffs is another statistic that usually gets overlooked, but puck control all begins with which team controls the faceoff circle.
In this area, the Capitals finished the regular season with 50.4% effectiveness, 13th best in the NHL. The Blue Jackets struggled a bit in the faceoff dot during the regular season, as they were 48.4 effective, 26th in the NHL.
EFFORT AND INTENSITY
The Blue Jackets and Capitals tend to play in a lot of spirited affairs. The games are usually chippy, since their respective squads have players like Tom Wilson and Boone Jenner who love to throw their weight around.
Head Coaches John Tortorella and Barry Trotz preach defense first to their respective teams. Tortorella’s teams are known for their excellent shot blocking. Trotz’s teams tend to play with a cycle game that can wear opponents down.
There will be chippy moments in this series, and there will likely be plenty of physicality. Both teams like to play a grinding style that wears their opponents down. Both teams will need to play with a lot of effort and intensity in this series.
By: George Foussekis