Sergei Bobrvosky gets his opportunity to play someone other than the Pittsburgh Penguins. Alexander Ovechkin is still chasing a Stanley Cup. Philipp Grubauer starts in goal over Braden Holtby. The Columbus Blue Jackets are seeking their first ever playoff series win. The Capitals have dominated the Blue Jackets while on the power play.
These are some of the major stories as the playoffs come calling for the Blue Jackets and Capitals. But what other stories are worth watching that isn’t getting the attention it deserves? We list three things that not only deserve more attention, but they’ll go a long way in determining the outcome of the series.
Most of the offensive attention with the Capitals go to Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom. But the player we have our eyes on is center Evgeny Kuznetsov. When the Capitals have enjoyed success at five-on-five against the Blue Jackets, it’s been because of Kuznetsov.
According to multiple reports, the Capitals will start game one with Ovechkin playing with Kuznetsov and not Backstrom. Backstrom will center the second line with T.J. Oshie.
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) April 11, 2018
Kuznetsov has 15 points in 18 career games against the Blue Jackets. He only has more points in his career against the New York Rangers than the Blue Jackets. His line of 4-11-15 includes all four goals at even strength. If the Capitals want to get out of round one this season, Kuznetsov must be the reason.
Both Ovechkin and Backstrom have surprising even strength numbers against the Blue Jackets. Ovechkin only owns seven career even strength goals against Columbus in 30 games while Backstrom has six in 29 games. At the same time, Ovechkin has nine power-play goals. Obviously the Blue Jackets have to stay out of the box. This shows us why.
Kuznetsov has been the more successful even strength player in recent matchups. His likely matchup with rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois will help decide this series.
Brandon Dubinsky’s Role
Dubinsky will start this series on the fourth line on the wing. Talk about a complete fall from grace from the start of the season. He was one of their most important centers given the energy he brings. But thanks to injuries and poor play, he got passed on the depth chart.
Despite the terrible season, he has a chance to make a difference if given the chance. In fact, the Blue Jackets must get something from him to help win this series. He can win important faceoffs. He can contribute defensively. He must take advantage of the ice time he gets and make an impact.
If he doesn’t get things going early, Sonny Milano is in waiting and John Tortorella will have no trouble replacing Dubinsky in the lineup. The Blue Jackets “should” have an advantage on the fourth line with Matt Calvert and Mark Letestu on it. If this trio can get consistent play, this will also allow Tortorella to roll four lines as he sees fit.
The regular season is done. Cant change anything now. But Dubinsky and company have an opportunity to make amends and help the Blue Jackets in their pursuit of the second round.
Andre Burakovsky & Jakub Vrana
The Capitals lost depth in the offseason. They got pinched by the salary cap. In order to make up for those losses, young players had to step up. It was good enough to win the division.
Now if they want to advance, they need secondary scoring. Two players in particular have to step up and provide that depth scoring. They are Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana.
Burakovsky struggled with both injury and inconsistent play throughout the season. He spent time as a healthy scratch. Coach Barry Trotz knows that if the Capitals want to go far in these playoffs, Burakovsky has to find his game. When it’s on, he can fill the net at a rapid rate. He’ll start on Backstrom’s line.
Vrana is expected to make his postseason debut on Thursday playing on the third line. Talk about having an opportunity to make a difference. He scored a career-high 13 goals this season. He has the talent to make a difference in a long series. The Capitals bottom-six as a whole have to contribute. Vrana is their most dangerous threat in that spot.
If these two wingers start scoring, this could be a long series for the Blue Jackets. We’ll revisit these stories and more as the series goes on. Should be a close, tight-checking series throughout. The winner of this series will play the winner of the Flyers/Penguins series.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.