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Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Washington Capitals Preview: Special Teams

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Can Columbus slow down the lethal Washington power play? The series may hinge on it.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets face a daunting task in their first round playoff series - stopping Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals power play from, well, capitalizing with the man advantage. The Capitals have one of the more lethal power plays in the league, highlighted by Ovechkin scoring from the left faceoff dot.

So, how do you counter this? Let’s take a look at the matchups.


Washington Power Play vs. Columbus Penalty Kill

Washington Power Play: 55 goals, 244 opportunities, 22.5% PP% (7th in the NHL)

Columbus Penalty Kill: 51 goals allowed, 214 opportunities, 76.2% PK% (27th in the NHL)

Well, this certainly looks like a mismatch, doesn’t it? Washington boasts on of the better power play grops in the NHL, and Columbus’ penalty kill has been ... wanting, to say the least. The Jackets allowed a power play goal in every game against the Capitals this season. The Jackets also killed just five of the final eleven penalties they took in the last three games this season.

The Capitals power play, led by a 17-14-31 mark from Alex Ovechkin with the man advantage, has posed problems for Columbus this year. The key will be staying out of the box for the Blue Jackets. Columbus was one of the least penalized teams in the league this year with 251 total penalties taken (223 minor penalties), both numbers good for the second-fewest in the league. If they can limit Washington’s man advantage chances, that will go a long way toward helping Columbus win the series.

One strategy that may develop: in Pittsburgh, Ian Cole was used as a shadow on Alex Ovechkin, shading toward his side and allowing the rest of the kill to play 4v3 while effectively neutralizing the most lethal threat. There is no guarantee this strategy will be employed, but it is something to keep an eye out for as Columbus looks for ways to shut down the Capital power play.


Columbus Power Play vs. Washington Penalty Kill

Columbus Power Play: 39 goals, 227 opportunities, 17.2% PP%, (25th in the NHL)

Washington Penalty Kill: 53 goals allowed, 269 opportunities, 80.3% PK% (15th in the NHL)

Per the numbers, Washington’s penalty kill was average in the NHL this season. The Jackets’ number is slightly inflated by a successful end to the season - for much of the year, the team hovered around the 10% mark, one of the worst seasons in NHL history had it finished that way.

The trade deadline acquisition of Thomas Vanek helped to stabilize Columbus power play. He has slotted in seamlessly on the second power play unit and his ability to pass as well as tip pucks has been a key to the rise of the second unit (which, at times, played as well as or better than the first during the stretch run to the playoffs). Vanek’s acquisition helped jump the Blue Jackets from the 30th ranked power play in the NHL to the 25th - not monumental, but enough to be dangerous.

Columbus will have to take advantage of what chances they are given in this series. As a team that scores by committee, converting opportunities will be a key to victory.


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