The Caps finished the regular season ahead of the Blue Jackets and won the regular season series 3-1. And yet, this series is expected to be fairly even, and there’s things about this match-up that should concern the Caps, like 5-on-5 play and Jackets star Artemi Panarin.
But, there’s still plenty of reasons, other than the obvious records mentioned above, to think the Caps can win this series. Here are two keys to a Caps’ series win, at which point we can all tell Ian he was wrong.
On Wednesday I wrote about why the 5-on-5 edge in this series goes to Columbus. Shifting to special teams, the advantage goes to the Caps, and it’s not even particularly close.
The Caps finished the regular season with the seventh best power play in the NHL, converting 22.5 percent of their chances. This power play is (and has been) a huge issue for any opponent, even those with a stellar penalty kill. The Jackets do not have a stellar penalty kill. Columbus ranked 26th in the NHL on the PK, killing off only 76.2 percent of their shorthanded situations.
One thing Columbus does have going for them here is their discipline. They were shorthanded just 214 times this season, 30th most in the league. That, coupled with the fact that penalty calls can dry up in the playoffs, are the best hopes for the Jackets to stop the Caps power play. But, when they do inevitably go shorthanded in the series, there will be someone waiting for them.
Columbus also sports a relatively weak power play, as they finished 25th in the NHL at 17.2 percent. On the flip side, the Caps killed 80.3 percent of shorthanded situations, good for 15th in the league. Despite the Jackets weak power play, the Caps will need to improve their discipline as they were the seventh most penalized team this season, with 269 nice shorthanded situations.
A few people correctly pointed out in the article from earlier today on Artemi Panarin that the Caps have a lot more individual talent than the Jackets. This is true and should create issues for the Jackets.
A lot has been made about the Caps lack of shot quantity this season and the team doesn’t seem overly worried about it, arguing that their shot quality makes up for the lack of quantity. While I disagree with some of the Caps conclusions on this topic, their argument is not without merit.
The Caps advantage here is summed up pretty well by the play of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov is a player who creates quality chances for his team when he’s on the ice, and this can sometimes compensate for the fact that the team gets outshot when he’s on the ice. For example, here’s how the team did when his two wingers were on the ice with him vs without him this season
|Wilson and Ovechkin||Shooting percentage|
The Caps were a much more dangerous team when their top line wingers skated with Kuznetsov than without him. While this is just a high-level view at one metric, it is symbolic of an advantage the Caps have in this series. That is, they have the more talent on offense and, in a playoff atmosphere where scoring chances can disappear, having gifted offensive players who can create more dangerous chances and then finish them is a big advantage.
The specials teams and battle of the top lines could go a long way in determining the winner of this series. The Caps have the advantage in both areas. Caps in six.
Headline image: Cara Bahniuk
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