Tuesday, April 11, 2017
NHL playoff preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus Blue Jackets
With the 2016-17 NHL regular season over, the playoffs will begin shortly. Today I'm previewing one of the eight series in the first round. That is the 2nd place team in the Metropolitan division, the Pittsburgh Penguins, going up against the 3rd Metro team, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Can the defending champs (the Pens) beat the Blue Jackets, a team who have made the playoffs for just the 3rd time in franchise history? The last time the Jackets made the playoffs (2013-14), they were eliminated in the first round by... You guessed it, the Penguins. To start off the preview, let's take a look at the teams.
Injuries have cost the Penguins from winning the President's trophy. Defensemen Kris Letang and Olli Maatta will be out, and the Pens will hope star center Evgeni Malkin plays. Speedy winger Carl Hagelin is also out. Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz are also on the list of injured forwards. So, guys like Dominik Simon, Josh Archibald, Carter Rowney and even Tom Sestito are starters. But, the best player in the world (hands down), Sidney Crosby, is healthy. Same goes with star winger Phil Kessel. The acquisitions of defensemen Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit slightly replaces Letang and Maatta. Rookie Matt Murray won the Cup with the Pens last year, and should play most games. Experienced backup Marc-Andre Fleury is there too. It's a very good team healthy, and still good injured.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Rookie defenseman Zach Werenski has lead this team, and will return from an injury. All-star winger Cam Atkinson is very good, and the same goes with Nick Foligno, Brandon Saad, Scott Hartnell and Boone Jenner. Their center core, with Brandon Dubinsky, Alex Wennberg and Sam Gagner is strong. On D, Seth Jones, David Savard and Jack Johnson join Werenski to form a solid group. Don't forget about goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who won the Vezina trophy (best goalie) in the shortened season of 2012-13. He's also the favorite to win this year's Vezina. They're a little less experienced, but can put up a good fight.
My prediction: Columbus Blue Jackets
I'm saying this is the big upset of the playoffs. The Jackets are healthy, and need to take advantage of that. Another advantage is goaltending. The Jackets have some of the best depth in the league, while the Pens lack that, especially on offense. Letang and Maatta's injuries will haunt the Pens. This is where injuries affect the postseason.