Every team has its kryptonite. Usually, it’s in the form of a superior team but not always. There are just certain matchups that don’t work well for some teams.
A classic example of this is the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals of the Eastern Conference. The two clubs have met nine times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the most for both franchises. Pittsburgh has an 8-1 record versus Washington in those nine series.
Even after completing another very impressive regular season, Washington fans might not feel 100% confident heading into a series with Pittsburgh should they meet in the second round again this season. For whatever reason, the Penguins are the Capitals’ kryptonite.
Just told my man @TarikCSN that he's working 'til June. Sorry, only see Penguins as Caps' biggest threat in the East. Their kryptonite.
— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) February 12, 2017
While Pittsburgh might feel as confident as anybody going up against the Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Penguins have their kryptonite too. Let’s take a look at three teams Pittsburgh would rather not see this postseason:
Columbus Blue Jackets
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the team they probably wanted to see the least this postseason is the same club they drew in the first round. The Columbus Blue Jackets may have struggled down the stretch, but there are several reasons this could be a difficult series for the Penguins.
For one, Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky will be matched up against captain Sidney Crosby. Dubinsky hasn’t been kind to “Sid the Kid” over the years. He is extremely physical on Crosby and comes close to crossing the line. Who are we kidding? Sometimes Dubinsky goes so far he can’t even see the line anymore.
That being said, he’s been very effective. In 11 playoff games against Dubinsky-led teams, Crosby has never scored, but Dubinsky never seems to have trouble scoring versus Pittsburgh. In his career against the Penguins, he has 13 goals and 33 points in 47 games. This season alone, he has three goals and six points in four contests.
This is only the tip of the iceberg for why this is a bad matchup for Pittsburgh. Columbus is an extremely physical team up and down the lineup. The Blue Jackets recorded 49 hits when the two teams met last week, and three Penguins left the game with an injury. Many believe that even if Pittsburgh wins this series, they won’t have enough healthy bodies to get through Washington.
Columbus could also have an advantage in net and behind the bench. Sergei Bobrovsky ended the regular season as the frontrunner for the Vezina Trophy, so Matt Murray needs to be on the top of his game.
Furthermore, the previous relationship between John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan adds a lot of intrigue to this series. The two are best friends, talk a lot and coached together last fall at the World Cup. Sullivan has done a masterful job of guiding the Penguins since he took over, but Tortorella might know his tendencies.
The Bruins are very much a dark horse in this spring’s playoffs. They are the only team in the East other than Pittsburgh who has won the Stanley Cup since 2000 and made the postseason. And while there’s obviously been turnover since the Bruins won in 2011, their core players remain the same.
Center Patrice Bergeron is a multiple Selke winner who can neutralize Crosby as good as anyone. The one time Crosby faced Boston in the postseason, he didn’t register a point, as the Bruins swept the Penguins in the Conference Finals. In fact, Pittsburgh scored two goals the whole series.
Furthermore, the TD Garden just hasn’t been a friendly place for the Penguins to visit in recent years. Dating back to that 2013 playoff series, Crosby’s team is 1-6-1 in Boston and has been outscored in those games 24-13.
Yes, Pittsburgh would have preferred seeing the Capitals get matched up with the Bruins in the first round because that probably would have been a tougher series for Washington than facing Toronto. Having said that, the Penguins avoiding the Bruins until the Conference Finals is probably a good thing.
By the time a team advances to the Stanley Cup Final, fans tend to be less concerned about matchups because they are just happy to be there. But if it looks like the Penguins are going to advance out of the first couple rounds, then Pittsburgh fans will have their eyes on the Western Conference to see how Chicago is doing.
The Blackhawks beat up the Penguins this season, outscoring them 9-2 in two games. Pittsburgh didn’t have its full lineup or Matt Murray in net for either contest, but the beatings are certainly still noteworthy.
In his career overall, Crosby hasn’t done well versus Jonathan Toews. Crosby has three goals and six points in 10 games versus Chicago, who is one of just five teams in the NHL to hold the best player in the world under a point per game in his career. Don’t worry Pittsburgh, I’m not implying Toews is better than Crosby; the Penguins captain just hasn’t performed well in a small sample size against the Blackhawks.
"He's a big game player and he's shown that a lot. His competitiveness is probably his biggest strength."
– Sidney Crosby on Jonathan Toews
— Daniel Greenberg (@ChiSportUpdates) March 2, 2017
And while Pittsburgh has more playoff experience than other great teams like Columbus and Washington, they don’t have that edge against Chicago. The Blackhawks have been there, done that, like the Penguins.
Meeting the Blackhawks this year obviously means the Penguins are in the Stanley Cup Finals for a second straight year, but should these two teams meet, it will be a very difficult matchup. The Penguins would be best served to avoid all three … well, the last two teams this postseason.
Dave Holcomb is excited to join The Hockey Writers team, covering the Pittsburgh Penguins. Holcomb began his NHL work as a fantasy columnist at The Sports Network. In 2015, Holcomb joined the fantasy NHL team at FanRag Sports, where he eventually worked into a beat writer position, covering both the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. He continues to cover the Metropolitan division, along with the NFL and Syracuse basketball, for FanRag Sports. To find more of his work, follow Holcomb on Twitter at @dmholcomb.