Now that the Blue Jackets have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, it’s time to break down the series. In the coming weeks we’ll go deep into what happened in this series and this season. Then we will review the individual performances before turning our attention to the draft and free agency.
First: what went right and what went wrong for the Jackets in this 4-2 series loss to the Washington Capitals?
WHAT WENT RIGHT
- Early Lead: The overtime win in Game 1 gave Columbus its first series lead in franchise history. The overtime in win in Game 2 expanded that lead as the series came home. They blew the lead, of course, but for once they were in the driver’s seat in a series.
- Close Games: Four of the six games in this series went to overtime, which suggests that these two teams were very closely matched.
- The Stars Showed Up: The top line (Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cam Atkinson) and top pair (Seth Jones and Zach Werensk) combined for 23 of the team’s 47 points in the series.
- Injuries: Unlike past years, the Jackets entered the postseason with their best lineup intact. John Tortorella was able to use the same 6 defensemen in each game, which was not the case in 2014 or 2017. Only one extra forward was necessary, and that was Sonny Milano who had been getting regular minutes down the stretch. There was one big injury, to Alexander Wennberg. I plan on writing a separate piece examining how the team performs with and without Wennberg in the lineup. On the other side, Washington lost Andre Burakovsky after game 2, but otherwise kept the same lineup as well.
- Bob Was Better: Sergei Bobrovsky put up numbers which improved on his extremely pedestrian career playoff numbers. His save percentage was .921 through the first four games of the series. This came after a .908 save percentage in 2014 and .882 in 2017, both against the Penguins.
WHAT WENT WRONG
- Bob Wasn’t Good Enough: Despite that .921 save percentage in the first four games, Bob posted .862 in Game 5 and .815 in Game 6, leaving him with a .900 save percentage for the entire six game series. In Blue Jacket playoff history, the team has yet to allow fewer than 3 goals in a game. The offense needs to score more, and the defense needs to help their goalie, but when you have a two-time Vezina Trophy winner minding the net, you need him to steal a game or two each series. The closest Bob came to this was saving 54 out of 58 shots in the Game 2 overtime win.
- Special Teams: The special teams of the Blue Jackets were consistently inconsistent all season. The power play was league worst for most of the season, before picking up late. The penalty kill was great, then godawful, then decent again. In the playoffs, the power play was 16.7%, good for 9th in the league. That’s not bad, but it looks worse when you see that all four power play goals came in the first two games of the series. In the final four games, the Jackets’ power play was 0 for 16. On the PK side, Washington scored a power play goal in every game of the series, for a total of 9 goals on 27 power play opportunities.
- Penalties: Speaking of, during the regular season the Jackets were one of the best teams at avoiding penalties. In the postseason they took 28 penalties, which was 7th most out of the 16 playoff teams. That works out to just over 11 PIM per game, and that’s too many opportunities for Washington’s elite power play to score.
- Center Depth: The loss of Wennberg had a ripple effect. Without him in the middle, Thomas Vanek and Boone Jenner struggled (Boone later had success with different linemates). Wennberg’s absence meant both Brandon Dubinsky and Mark Letestu would have to take shifts at center, when Torts would have preferred both to remain on the fourth line, with one as a wing. Center had been a question mark all season and unfortunately it was a problem that Jarmo Kekalainen was not able to solve. He pursued but was unable to sign Nick Bonino in the summer. He was in the running to acquire Matt Duchene from Colorado, but could not match the price Nashville and Ottawa came up with. Mark Letestu was acquired at the deadline, but was not good enough to cover the absence of a top 6 forward like Wennberg. Once again, this will need to be a priority in the offseason. Ideally the target is a 3C who can play 2C in a pinch, behind the 1C and 2C of Dubois and Wennberg.
- Depth Scoring: Before the series started, some smart dude said “The stars on both sides (Ovie and Bread) will do their thing, so depth scoring will be the difference. Can we keep guys like Tom Wilson and Lars Eller off the board? Can the Wennberg and Foligno lines produce?” Of the 20 Washington skaters in this series, only Alex Chiasson and Burakovsky failed to record a point. 13 of the 20 recorded multiple points, and 11 scored goals. Meanwhile Columbus had 19 players in the series, and 5 of them (Markus Nutivaara, David Savard, Sonny Milano, Brandon Dubinsky, Mark Letestu) failed to record a point. 13 recorded multiple points and 12 scored goals, but only 5 scored multiple goals, and the high was Matt Calvert (!) with 3. There were 7 Washington players with multiple goals, with Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Oshie all tying or surpassing 3. Eller and Wilson had two goals a piece, while Wennberg missed half the series and Foligno didn’t score a goal until the final game.
- Blown Lead: Not many of us expected the Jackets to take a 2-0 lead in the series. However, once that happened it seemed very probably that Columbus would use home ice to take the series, and add another failure to the Caps’ recent history of disappointment. Instead, it was the Jackets who choked and lost 4 games in a row, 3 of those at home. At least 2014 and 2017 featured Game 4 wins at home.
What do you think went right, and what do you think went wrong in this series?