Continuing on in our series today breaking down the positional matchups in the round one series, we now take a look at the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins matchups in net and on special teams.
There is absolutely no question who the Columbus Blue Jackets are starting goal for every single game of their playoff run: Sergei Bobrovsky. The Vezina Trophy favorite has had an absolutely outstanding season, leading the NHL in save percentage and goals against average this year. Bobrovsky finished 3rd in the league with 41 wins and also posted 7 shutouts. Bobrovsky has been the best player on the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, and he will have to be in the playoffs for the team to find success. Joonas Korpisalo has had a competent season after taking over the backup role from former Blue Jacket Curtis McElhinney. Korpisalo will likely not see any time in net during the postseason barring something catastrophic, and at that point, the team has bigger problems.
200 feet away, Matt Murray will man the net for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Murray, who came out of nowhere last season to backstop the Penguins to a Stanley Cup victory. This season, he posted solid numbers platooning with Marc-Andre Fleury, winning 32 games with a GAA of 2.41. Fleury, on the other hand, struggled in net this season, allowing 3.02 goals per game and likely playing out his final season in Pittsburgh. Murray was the starting netminder for every game against Columbus this season, winning 2 and losing 2, including getting chased from the net in the first matchup between the teams this season.
The only storyline that matters between the goaltenders is this: In the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he went 2-4 with a .908 save percentage and 3.17 goals against average. Bobrovsky will have to be the Vezina-caliber netminder he has been for this entire season for the Columbus Blue Jackets to have a chance to make noise in the playoffs.
Special Teams Preview
Power Play Preview
The Blue Jackets, at one point, had the best power play in the league. The 5 man unit of Zach Werenski, Sam Gagner, Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, and Alexander Wennberg could, at one point, set up shop and zip quick passes around until they buried the puck behind the poor opposing netminder. Once teams figured out how to pressure the team on zone entries and in the neutral zone, the power play cratered and it struggled to finish the season, at one point dipping below 10% post All Star Break. Torts and Brad Shaw have shuffled the units trying to generate some sort of momentum for the power play, but nothing has worked thus far. It will be critical for the Blue Jackets to take advantage of any man advantage chances that they have.
The Penguins, meanwhile, have taken advantage of the power play opportunities they have been given this year, registering the third most efficient power play in the league this season. Their current top unit is missing Kris Letang, who is out for the next four to six months with a neck injury. Staying out of the penalty box will be a key to the series for the Blue Jackets.
Penalty Kill Preview
The Blue Jackets allowed only 39 power play goals this season, killing 82.51% of opponent power plays this season. That mark was good for the 9th best in the league over the course of the year. William Karlsson and Cam Atkinson in particular developed as excellent players on the penalty kill this season, earning Torts’ trust in all situations.
Meanwhile, the Penguins only managed to kill off 79.77% of opponent penalties this season, good for 20th in the league. With the injuries the Penguins have on the blue line, capitalizing on power play opportunities will be important for the Blue Jackets to have a chance in the series.