The first round of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs starts today and the defending Stanley Cup Champions, Pittsburgh Penguins will face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was in 2014. The Penguins eliminated them in six games and were later defeated by the New York Rangers in the second round. Many changes have been made since then to both teams. The Penguins are coming off a solid season and look to repeat their 2016 Playoff success. The Blue Jackets also had a great season finishing with a franchise record of 108 points. They look to continue that success with their first postseason series win.
Battle. That will be what this series will all be about. Every time these teams met they battle it out. The Blue Jackets play a hard, physical game, while the Penguins prefer to play fast. The Blue Jackets will be focused on getting the Penguins off their style of play. Now the Penguins must stick to their game and no get involved with after-whistle scrums. That will be key as special teams will come into effect. Of course, it would be better to have the power play on the ice rather than the penalty kill.
As for the speed game, the Penguins will be getting back a key player in Evgeni Malkin who will return to the lineup tonight after missing the final 13 regular-season games due to a shoulder injury. The top trio of the Penguins will be ready to make their playoff debut as a line. Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Conor Sheary combined for a total 44 points (19 goals and 25 assists) in their 11 complete games they played together. The Penguins have great depth and fire power. Malkin’s return will help take the pressure of Crosby, which will open things up for the team.
On defense, the Penguins will have to adjust without Kris Letang. No one person can replace Letang, but the Penguins should be able to pick up some of the slack as Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta are available once again. Letang is known to have the most time on ice minutes logged among the Penguins, so the rest of the defense will have to split their time wisely. No good to have anyone getting tired out, the playoffs are a marathon not a sprint race. Someone that has stepped up in Letang’s absence has been Justin Schultz. He has slotted in nicely and really showed the league how overlooked he has been. Look for him to take over some of Letang’s responsibilities, such as quarterbacking the power play.
Now let’s not forget one of the most important positions out there, the goalie. The head to head matchup will be Matt Murray and Sergei Bobrovsky. Both goaltenders are coming off great seasons. Here are some stats:
- · Record: 32-10-14 Record: 32-10-14
- · Goals-against-average (GAA): 2.41 GAA: 2.06
- · Save percentage (SV%): .923 SV%: .931
It will be a good matchup and the Penguins do have one trick up their sleeve as veteran goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury will be on hand.
Injury front for both teams:
Pittsburgh Penguins Columbus Blue Jackets
- · Carl Hagelin (lower-body) David Clarkson (back)
- · *Chris Kunitz (lower-body) Ryan Murray (hand)
- · *Kris Letang (herniated disc) Lukas Sedlak (upper-body)
- Zach Werenski (upper-body)