What You Need to Know, Penguins Versus Jackets Team Breakdown
Breakdown: Team Analysis
Penguins – The Penguins are the more talented team in this match up and it isn’t all that close. Pittsburgh is a very lucky team in terms of talent.
They will have a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, something questioned last season with Crosby coming off a broken jaw. Pittsburgh has a legitimate top six on the back end this season. It currently looks like the only player that will miss significant time in the playoffs is Marcel Goc and his return can be as early as next week.
(Disclaimer, this is not including Pascal Dupuis who is out from ACL surgery in February, there is no possible way he can return this season)
The question that lingers over the Penguins is the play of starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The Flower has been terrible the past two seasons in the playoffs and will have to be at his best if the Penguins want to win the cup.
Columbus – A systematic club that always plays for the Logo on the front is always, always, a tough out in the playoffs. This team is well coached, plays for one another, and has tremendous goaltending.
They have a collect group of forwards that produce rather evenly. They are lacking a true star at this point, although Ryan Johansen is on the verge of being an everyday name in this league. What makes them strong is their depth and consistency.
The Blue Jackets will come at you in waves of tenacious checking and consistent pressure. Their back end leaves something to be desired, but their goaltending is some of the best in the league if not the best.
X-Factor at Forward
Penguins – Sidney Crosby. It is just too easy to pick him and too difficult not to pick him. Sidney Crosby won the Art Ross Trophy by 17 points despite playing with four right wingers after Pascal Dupuis got hurt, none of which you have probably heard of. Crosby also played as the Penguins shut down center this season in an attempt to get Brandon Sutter more favorable matchups.
He is arguably, and it is an easy argument for myself, the Hart Trophy favorite at this point and already has a gold medal this year from his Olympic win. Sidney Crosby is not looking past any opponent in these playoffs, but a gold medal, Art Ross Tophy, Hart Tophy, possible Conn Smyth and possible Stanley Cup could make for one of the most dominant seasons in the history of hockey.
The Penguins captain will enter the playoffs flanked by Beau Bennett and Chris Kunitz. The trio had started to form some chemistry down the stretch, but injuries to Kunitz and two games rest to Crosby slowed their progress. Either way, Sidney Crosby is expected to excel. His 1.28 points per game in the playoffs is the highest among any active player.
Columbus – Brandon Dubinsky. I could have went with the aforementioned Ryan Johansen, a star in the making, but instead I picked a former foe in Dubinsky. While a member of the Rangers, Dubinksy was a serious pain in the Penguins side.
He had one of his best seasons to date with 16 goals and 50 points. Dubinsky brings forth a good physical presence and a no fear to play against the top stars. He loves to get under the skin of Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, forcing them into stupid penalties. Dubinsky is not the best player on the Blue Jackets, but it is his tenacity that will make him their most important in this series.
If he is to produce at a rate in the area of .6 to .8 points per game in this series, he will have excelled beyond his role. To be a true X-Factor all he has to do is play the game that he loves and the Penguins hate.
X-Factor on Defense
Penguins – Kris Letang. The stroke has been completed healed and there is no greater chance of having one while playing. This is the only news Kris Letang wanted to hear.
Letang is more than ready to go for the playoffs and contributing at a higher rate than ever. Letang’s eleven goals on the season, six on the power play, are career highs despite him playing just 37 games this season. He will be a crucial element to breaking the neutral zone pressure and defensive zone breakouts.
Blue Jackets – James Wisniewski. The reason for selecting Wisniewski over a defensive guy like Jack Johnson is his power play ability and offensive capabilities. Pittsburgh has been very vulnerable on the penalty kill recently and with a big point presence, the Jackets can really even out the game.
Wisniewski is not the best defensemen in his own zone, but he is more than capable. If Columbus wants to even out the playing field and kick start their offense, this is the player who is the catalyst. His 51 points on the season set a Columbus record and 28 of those came on the power play.
Bobrovsky! – The Vezina winning netminder is going to be the biggest piece to Columbus’ success. He has, on multiple occasions, stolen games in which the Blue Jackets were heavily outplayed. He has a strong ability to read the play and is rarely found out of position.
The biggest factor falling Bob’s way is his great record against the Penguins. His style of play forces Pittsburgh into uncomfortable situations. When their speed and passing ability doesn’t open up scoring chances, they tend to take low percentage shots. It is no secret that goaltending can be the great equalizer in the playoffs and Bobrovsky definitely has what it takes to give Columbus a chance.
Marc-Andre Fleury – Perhaps the greatest enigma in hockey today is the supremely gifted netminder of the Penguins. Fleury has taken games over in the past with his athleticism, making game breaking saves at crucial times.
This is not the Fleury that fans have seen of late. His play is shaky; his mental stability is been weak. If the Penguins are to challenge for a Stanley Cup they will need Fleury to be at his best. Fleury will either make or break the Penguins playoff run.
Special Teams – The advantage goes to Pittsburgh in this category. They currently have the best power play in the league, clicking at a rate over 23%. They have a penalty kill at 85%, good enough for 5th in the NHL. Columbus finished in 11th on the power play and 14th on the penalty kill. The difference is great enough to give Pittsburgh an advantage, but not a huge advantage.
While the Penguins are not a deep team, they are still a better team than Columbus. The playoffs are all about depth and goaltending, but what Pittsburgh has in spades is top end talent. This gives them an advantage in the early rounds, but will eventually be their downfall in the later rounds. Crosby and Malkin healthy will prove to be too much for the upstart Blue Jackets in this series.
Prediction – The Penguins will win this series in 5 games
East – Boston in 6, Montreal in 6, New York Rangers in 7
West – Minnesota in 7, Chicago in 5, Anaheim in 6, San Jose in 7