SCOUTING PENGUINS – BLUE JACKETS
We all know the importance of special teams in this series as the Blue Jackets have to win the special teams game to make things interesting as they face the daunting task of shutting down the Penguins power play.
However, an area where these teams are much more even is 5-on-5, at least statistically.
At 5-on-5, the Blue Jackets and Penguins have been very similar this season. The Penguins posted a 1.05 5-on-5 Goals For/Against Radio in the regular season, while the Blue Jackets were a tad better at 1.06.
It is often overlooked that the Penguins are not a great even strength team due to a lack of bottom-6 scoring and they are not a very good puck possession team, ranking 16th among 30 teams in puck possession.
As the league has evolved into many contenders built on a heavy, puck possession game, the Penguins system and style of play under Dan Bylsma is under the microscope this post-season. While Bylsma has made adjustments this season, using a left wing lock, the organization as a whole still hasn’t come around to how the league is evolving.
The past three Stanley Cup winners are among the top-4 puck possession teams in the NHL this season via Extraskater.com; Los Angeles Kings (1st), Chicago Blackhawks (2nd), Boston Bruins (4th).
Columbus was a stronger puck possession team than Pittsburgh this season but their depth is going to be tested in this series. If you’re going to slow down the Penguins, you have to limit their quick strike ability where the Penguins excel so well against inferior teams.
Scouts contend when it comes to even strength play, a big loss for Columbus at the start of this series isn’t just Nathan Horton but it’s Nick Foligno. Foligno is a strong two-way player who had 18 goals and 39 points in 70 games. He scored 15 even strength goals and is one of those players who has the ability to get under the Penguins skin. Foligno had 210 hits this season.
Foligno is expected to miss the first two games of the series but coach Todd Richards said Monday that he is confident that Foligno and R.J. Umberger will play at somepoint in the series.
For the Penguins they go into Game 1 relatively healthy. Evgeni Malkin is due back while Joe Vitale is expected to be available to play.
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES IN GAME 1
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Beau Bennett
Jussi Jokinen – Evgeni Malkin – James Neal
Tanner Glass – Brandon Sutter – Lee Stempniak
Brian Gibbons – Joe Vitale – Craig Adams
BLUE JACKETS PROJECTS LINES IN GAME 1
Matt Calvert – Brandon Dubinsky – Cam Atkinson
Derek MacKenzie – Artem Anisimov – Blake Comeau
Boone Jenner – Ryan Johansen – Jack Skille
Corey Tropp – Mark Letestu -Jared Boll
When the Penguins and Blue Jackets met recently on March 28th in Columbus, we got a glimpse of how Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards plans to attack the Penguins top line.
During that contest, the Blue Jackets line of Matt Calvert – Brandon Dubinsky – Cam Atkinson was on the ice for 12 of Sidney Crosby’s 15 even strength shifts. Dubinsky has a past, namely with the Rangers of getting under Crosby’s skin. He’s physical, 234 hits in 76 games, and isn’t afraid to be in Crosby’s space.
Also in that contest, Richards opted for Jack Johnson not James Wisniewski to match up against Crosby. It’s anticipated that Richards will look to put Johnson and Fedor Tyutin as the primary D-pair up against the Crosby line with Wisniewski getting Evgeni Malkin.
The Penguins believe with the return of Malkin, Columbus will be hard pressed to shut both lines down. This might not be a series where the Penguins need a lot of bottom-6 scoring but their bottom-6 can’t be liabilities defensively which has been an issue with players like Craig Adams.
For Columbus, the pressure will be on checking line centers Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov who is expected to get matched up against Malkin.
Anisimov had a 22 goal season and will center physical wingers Derek MacKenzie and Blake Comeau. MacKenzie is a player who could drive the Penguins nuts.
He led the Blue Jackets with 241 hits. Comeau was credited with 197 hits in 61 games. This is not a team that’s afraid to throw the body around and they will be looking to grind out wins.
A key area to watch will be how Bylsma counters Richards game plan or if he does at all when it comes to line matching. Does he let Richards dictate things and not avoid Kunitz – Crosby – Bennett vs Calvert – Dubinsky – Atkinson, and go with Sutter up against Ryan Johansen?.
Some believe Bylsma could in fact counter by looking to match Sidney Crosby up against the Jackets top line of Jenner – Johansen – Skille and go strength against strength.
Regardless of which line Bylsma matches against the Johansen line, the Penguins top pairing of Brooks Orpik – Paul Martin could play a big part in dictating this series. If the two have an exceptional series and shutdown Johansen who has been one of the best players in the NHL over the last couple months and is a player scouts can’t stop comparing to Ryan Getzlaf, Columbus is going to be in serious trouble.
Team Offense – Pittsburgh
Team Defense – Columbus
Goaltending – Columbus
Special Teams – Pittsburgh
Coaching – Pittsburgh