NHL Stanley Cup Round 1 Eastern Conference Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets vs Pittsburgh Penguins

Another team who are suddenly good, John Tortorella seems to have worked some kind of voodoo on the Jackets this year, and rather than lucking in to the show, or getting enough one-point nights, they’re here on merit. They’ve been pretty fun to watch.

That said, they’ve had a pretty rough time of late, and they start their third post-season campaign against last year’s defending champions. So good luck.

That said, the Penguins have been struggling with injuries for quite a while. Kris Letang, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kunitz are still out, and Geno Malkin is just about fit to go. Having said that, they’ve still been winning. The Pens are pretty good.

Eastern Conference Round One
Columbus Blue Jackets Vs Pittsburgh Penguins
Standings
4th League 2nd
3rd Conference 2nd
3rd Division 2nd
3rd Metropolitan Seeding 2nd Metropolitan
Season Record
50-24-8 108pts Overall 111pts 50-21-11
249 Goals For 282
195 Goals Against 234

Best offence in the league meets second-best defence. The Jackets know how to find the back of the net too, so this could be fun. The Penguins only lost ten times at home all year, too, so home ice could be a big advantage.

Record versus opponent
14 23 0 All-time 23 14 0
2 4 0 Playoffs 4 2 0
2 1 1 2016/17 2 1 1

As suggested by their proximity in the table, these two sides have been pretty close all year, splitting the regular season series.

The one playoff series between the two was back in 2014, with the Pens winning in six.

Scoring Leaders
Cam Atkinson 35 Goals 44 Sidney Crosby
Alexander Wennberg 46 Assists 47 Phil Kessel
Cam Atkinson 62 Points 89 Sidney Crosby
Cam Atkinson 240 Shots 255 Sidney Crosby
Cam Atkinson 14.6 Shot % 19.8 Jake Guentzel

The Pens have ten players who have ten or more goals, five of whom have more than 20. They also have three players who have more than 70 points – Crosby, Kessel and Malkin.

The Jackets’ scoring runs a little deeper, with 12 in double figures, although only three have broken 20. They do have eight players with more than 40 points, though Cam Atkinson is the only one to break 60.

Even Strength Team Possession (via corsica.hockey)
Unadjusted SZV Adjusted
CF% FF% CF% FF%
Columbus 50.31 50.45 51.07 51.20
Pittsburgh 50.14 51.24 49.76 50.88
Unadjusted Possession Leaders (ES, min 200 minutes)
CF% FF%
D F D F
Columbus Zach Werenski (53.40) Oliver Bjorkstrand (54.68) Zach Werenski (53.04) Sam Gagner (55.25)
Pittsburgh Kris Letang (53.38) Carl Hagelin (53.92) Kris Letang (53.25) Patric Hornqvist (56.23)

The Pens are an adjusted negative possession team, oddly enough. They barely break even in Corsi unadjusted, and their Fenwick is 1% better, but the Jackets come into this tie as a better possession team. Fair play, Torts. That said, more Pens players are positive possession players than Jackets – 12 against 10. Lower troughs, presumably.

Special Teams
Power Play Penalty Kill
% Rank % Rank
Columbus 19.9 12th 82.5 9th
Pittsburgh 23.1 3rd 79.8 20th
PPG For SHG Against PPG Against SHG For
Columbus 42 2 39 10
Pittsburgh 60 7 52 5

Third-best powerplay in the league against a top-ten penalty kill. Pittburgh’s PK is surprisingly low, so that could be an opportunity for the Jackets to exploit. Out of the teams in the playoffs, only two teams have conceded less powerplay goals then the Jackets, so special teams could pay off for them.

Goaltending
Columbus Pittsburgh
Sergei Bobrovsky Joonas Korpisalo Matt Murray Marc-Andre Fleury
5v5 Sv% 93.87 90.80 93.44 91.69
5v5 HDSv% 86.43 76.47 83.21 81.62
All Sits Sv% 93.15 90.52 92.32 90.94
All Sits HDSv% 85.41 80.85 82.23 81.61

We can talk all day about how good Bob has been this year. It’s not that the Jackets have ridden him, but he’s been a very good foundation for their success this year. Calls for him to win the Vezina have lots of merit.

As for the Pens, you know the story. Matt Murray emerges just at the right time to take over from a slumping MAF to lead the team to a Stanley Cup. This year, he’s made the net his own, posting much better numbers than Fleury and leaving the Pens in the situation where they need to convince Fleury to waive his NMC so they can protect Murray from Vegas.

In a previous article I’ve suggested Murray should be in the discussion for the Calder, and it upset some Leafs fans. I’ll say it again – he should be, because without him, the Pens are a much worse team.

Prediction

I’d like to see the Jackets progress, just so we have a chance at a new name on the trophy. But, they’ve only beaten two playoff teams since the start of March – the Leafs and the Wild – and Sidney & co usually fancy the postseason. Pens in 6.

The winner faces the Capitals or the Leafs. So, the Caps.

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