The Columbus Blue Jackets are set to begin their first-round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight and even though they’re the lower seed, there are a decent amount of experts and fans who are taking the Jackets to win this series.
Part of that is likely due to the fact that the Capitals are notorious for collapsing in the playoffs, but I think there is a legitimate case to make for the Columbus Blue Jackets to win this series, not necessarily just be the benefactors of another choke on behalf of the Caps.
REASON #1 – GOALTENDING
Philipp Grubauer has been absolutely outstanding since the calendar turned to 2018, but the decision to go with the inexperienced Grubauer over Braden Holtby reeks of causing a goalie controversy.
The Jackets, on the other hand, know that Sergei Bobrovsky is going to be their guy and even though he’s been shaky in past playoff appearances, he’s consistently been a top-five goalie in the league, and they’re beyond confident in him.
This year, his 0.921 SV% was the best amongst Eastern Conference starters, and his 2.42 GAA was second only to Tuukka Rask in terms of Eastern starters.
I think Bob will finally shake his playoff jitters, and it could single-handedly win the Jackets this series.
REASON #2 – SPECIAL TEAMS
The Washington Capitals live through their powerplay. It finished seventh in the league at 22.5% (and were 25% in the last half of the year), and they can win games with just their powerplay.
The reason I benefit the Blue Jackets here is that they don’t take penalties. They were 30th in “times shorthanded” this season and even though they play a physical brand of hockey, they’re very good at staying out of the box.
Simply put: the Capitals powerplay can’t win them games, if they don’t get any chances with the man advantage.
Although the Jackets struggled with the man advantage this year, it has been trending upwards. In the last month of the season, it was top ten in the league, and historically, they’ve shown the ability to be a dangerous group with the man-advantage.
The Washington Capitals have also had to kill the seventh most penalties this season.
The playoffs can change everything, but based on the regular season, the Jackets could win the special teams battle.
REASON #3 – DIVERSE D-CORE
This will be the quickest point, but the group of defensemen that the Jackets have can shut down their opposition in a variety of ways.
With guys like Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, they can shut down any sort of attack that’s built off of speed. You can also look at Ian Cole and David Savard who play a more traditional “shut down” role.
The third pairing of Markus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray can be productive when used in the right situations as well.
With Bobrovsky between the pipes and a solid group of six defenders in front of him, the Jackets are primed to stop a strong Capitals offense, which is step one to winning the series.
Step two would be to score goals, and with the likes of Cam Atkinson, Artemi Panarin, and a surprisingly strong supporting cast, they are more than capable of doing that.
For the Columbus Blue Jackets, the first playoff round win in franchise history might not be too far away.