By Glynn Cosker
Managing Editor, DCpuckDrop
The Washington Capitals finally know the team they’ll face in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: The Columbus Blue Jackets. The Caps had to wait until the outcome of the Columbus-Nashville contest on Saturday night to learn their initial postseason foe, and a Blue Jackets loss to the Predators sealed the deal.
The Blue Jackets won’t be a pushover, but history is on the Capitals’ side as they venture into a series that starts at Capital One Arena in Washington on Thursday. However, that prior history is comprised of only regular-season match-ups; this is the first time the two clubs have ever met in the playoffs.
Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Others Perform Well Against Columbus
In their 34 previous outings, the Capitals have won 22 games while the Blue Jackets took 12. During the season that just concluded, the Caps were 3-1-0 over Columbus. That said, the teams each scored 12 goals over those four games in 2017-18. Additionally, the Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin has destroyed the Blue Jackets during his 30 games against them. In his career, Ovechkin has tallied 16 goals and six assists for a total of 22 points versus Columbus.
However, it’s not just Ovechkin who has dominated the Blue Jackets in recent memory. Nicklas Backstrom has 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in his 29 games against Columbus; Andre Burakovsky has seven points in 13 games versus them; John Carlson has 17 points in 22 games; T. J. Oshie has 25 points in 39 games (most of those games as a St. Louis Blues player); and – most impressive of all – Evgeny Kuznetsov has 15 points in only 18 games against the Blue Jackets.
Blue Jackets: Uncharted Territory
Effectively, the players mentioned above are the Washington Capitals’ main points producers of late – and they have completed owned Columbus during the past 10 or so regular seasons. But – a postseason series against Columbus is, of course, uncharted territory. Then again, until recently, the Blue Jackets reaching the playoffs was also uncharted territory; the Capitals represent only the third club that Columbus has played in their short postseason history.
For his part, Kuznetsov, is excited about the rest of April and hopefully beyond, regardless of the Capitals’ first-round opponents:
“They are a great young team, and they have great goaltending,” said Kuznetsov of the Columbus Blue Jackets. “But for me, it doesn’t matter who you play. It’s just a fun time. You prepare all year for this moment, and it doesn’t matter who you play.”
Who Starts In Goal – Holtby or Grubauer?
One important factor of how well the Capitals will do against the Blue Jackets will be who Capitals’ head coach Barry Trotz puts in between the pipes on Thursday. Down the regular-season stretch, Trotz had a goaltending conundrum on his hands after the usually unflappable Braden Holtby took a downward turn in form – essentially giving his backup Philipp Grubauer the #1 goalie status in Washington.
Holtby, of course, has tons of postseason experience and also has 14 wins from 21 starts against Columbus. However, there is no denying how good Grubauer has been during recent games. If history counts for anything, Washington will simply go with the ‘hot goalie’ to start the playoffs, and that is Grubauer. Having one of the best goalies in the NHL sitting on the bench ready to come in to replace your ‘hot’ starter is a win-win for Trotz and the Washington Capitals. Trotz has – and, likely won’t – talk to the media about his goaltending choice prior to Thursday’s Game 1 in DC. Ultimately, numbers count: Grubauer has a GAA of 2.35 (sixth in the NHL), while Holtby has a GAA of 2.99 (39th in the NHL); it’s a similar story in the save percentage department. Grubauer should start on Thursday.
Columbus Scratched 9 Players in Final Game
Blue Jackets Head Coach John Tortorella scratched nine players for his team’s final game on Saturday against the Predators in a move that raised eyebrows and even had some people hinting that it was a tactic designed to ensure that Columbus avoided the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1. We call that rubbish; Tortorella was wise to rest a bunch of star players because there is nothing worse than seeing a regular starter getting injured in Game 82 if you’re already assured a playoff berth.
History may have the Capitals owning the Blue Jackets, but anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs where logic is usually tossed out of the arena, and a matter of inches determines the fate of all the teams involved.
Capitals/Blue Jackets Round 1 Series Schedule:
Thursday, April 12 – 7:30 p.m. – Columbus at Washington
Sunday, April 15 – 7:30 p.m. – Columbus at Washington
Tuesday, April 17 – 7:30 p.m. – Washington at Columbus
Thursday, April 19 – 7:30 p.m. – Washington at Columbus
*Saturday, April 21 – TBD – Columbus at Washington
*Monday, April 23 – TBD – Washington at Columbus
*Wednesday, April 25 – TBD – Columbus at Washington