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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: The ultimate Capitals-Blue Jackets preview

Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: The ultimate Capitals-Blue Jackets preview

Round 1: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Schedule

Game 1: Blue Jackets at Capitals. Thursday, 4/12 at 7:30 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC Sports Washington)
Game 2: Blue Jackets at Capitals. Sunday, 4/15 at 7:30 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC Sports Washington)
Game 3: Capitals at Blue Jackets. Tuesday, 4/17 at 7:30 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC Sports Washington)
Game 4: Capitals at Blue Jackets. Thursday, 4/19 at 7:30 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC Sports Washington)
Game 5 (If Necessary): Blue Jackets at Capitals. Saturday, 4/21 at Time TBD. (Channel TBD)
Game 6 (If Necessary): Capitals at Blue Jackets. Monday, 4/23 at Time TBD. (Channel TBD)
Game 7 (If Necessary): Blue Jackets at Capitals. Wednesday, 4/25 at Time TBD. (Channel TBD)

See the full detailed schedule here.

Team stats

Washington

  • 49-26-7, 105 points, first in the Metropolitan Division
  • 3.12 goals per game (9th)
  • 2.90 goals against per game (16th)
  • 22.5-percent power play percentage (7th)
  • 80.3-percent penalty kill percentage (15th)

Columbus

  • 45-30-7, 97 points, first wild card
  • 2.88 goals per game (17th)
  • 2.76 goals against per game (tied for 9th)
  • 17.2 power play percentage (25th)
  • 76.2-percent penalty kill percentage (tied for 26th)

Top Performers

Washington

Goals

  1. Alex Ovechkin – 49
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov – 27
  3. Nicklas Backstrom – 21

Assists

  1. Evgeny Kuznetsov – 56
  2. John Carlson – 53
  3. Nicklas Backstrom – 50

Points

  1. Alex Ovechkin – 87
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov – 83
  3. Nicklas Backstrom – 71

Columbus

Goals

  1. Artemi Panarin – 27
  2. Cam Atkinson – 24
  3. Pierre-Luc Dubois – 20

Assists

  1. Artemi Panarin – 55
  2. Seth Jones – 41
  3. Oliver Bjorkstrand – 29

Points

  1. Artemi Panarin – 82
  2. Seth Jones – 57
  3. Pierre-Luc Dubois – 48

Goaltending

Washington

Braden Holtby: 54 GP, 34-16-4 record, .907 save percentage, 2.99 GAA, 0 shutouts
Philipp Grubauer: 35 GP, 15-10-3 record, .923 save percentage, 2.35 GAA, 3 shutouts

Columbus

Sergei Bobrovsky: 65 GP, 37-22-6 record, .921 save percentage, 2.42 GAA, 5 shutouts
Joonas Korpisalo: 18 GP, 8-8-1 record, .897 save percentage, 3.32 GAA, 0 shutouts

Head-to-head record

Capitals won season series 3-1-0

Dec. 2: 4-3 Capitals win

Columbus had won eight of its last nine, but Holtby cooled off the Blue Jackets with 32 saves while Ovechkin scored in the final minute of the second period and Kuznetsov scored in the second minute of the third for a quick two-goal swing.

Feb. 6: 3-2 Capitals win

Holtby was again brilliant with 37 saves and Backstrom’s 200th career goal ended up being the game-winner.

Feb. 9: 4-2 Capitals win

Washington swept a home-and-home against Columbus despite getting outshot 37-17. Jay Beagle broke a 2-2 tie with his 50th career goal.

Feb. 26: 5-1 Blue Jackets win

Played on trade deadline day, the Blue Jackets were energized by the team’s acquisitions of Mark Letestu, Thomas Vanek and Ian Cole. Columbus took advantage of Holtby while he was in mid-slump and chased the Caps' netminder with four goals on 12 shots.

Three keys of the series for Washington

1. Goaltending: The Caps are still in need of a starter between the pipes as a midseason swoon by Braden Holtby opened up a goalie competition in the latter weeks of the season. Barry Trotz could start Holtby, the Vezina Trophy winner who came into the season as the undisputed No. 1, but who struggled immensely during the month of February. He could also pick Grubauer, the untested backup who has been statistically the NHL’s best goalie since Thanksgiving. Regardless of who Washington starts, the Blue Jackets are going to want to get in his head early and cause doubt. Columbus’ season offensive numbers are low, but no team in the NHL has scored more goals since the trade deadline than Columbus. If the floodgates open early for them, the Caps may not have an answer in net. As for the Jackets, Columbus knows who their goalie is, but how will he perform? The Capitals have been a thorn in the side of Bobrovsky who has managed only a very pedestrian 7-10-4 record with a .900 save percentage and 3.02 GAA against them. No one will care about his past against Washington if he plays well at the start of the series and builds up his confidence. If the Caps get to him, however, it won’t be long before doubt begins to creep in his mind as he desperately tries to figure out what it is about this Washington team that always seems to get the better of him.

2. Taking advantage of the special teams: Special teams tend to be less important in the postseason as the referees put the whistles away. If penalties do become a factor in this series than it is an advantage the Caps must absolutely utilize. Washington has a distinct advantage over Columbus who ranks near the bottom in both power play percentage (25th) and penalty kill (26th).

3. Limiting Panarin: Panarin led the Blue Jackets in goals (27), assists (55) and points (82) over the regular season. He is the most important offensive player on the ice for Columbus. Yes, Cam Atkinson was limited to only 65 games this season, but the 25-point gap between Panarin and Jones, who is the team’s second-leading scorer despite being a defenseman, shows you how much the Blue Jackets rely on him offensively. Limiting Panarin will be easier said than done, but if the Caps find a way to do so, Columbus may not have enough offensive weapons to keep up.

What are people saying about this series?

From NHL.com: “The Blue Jackets will focus on Ovechkin, whose 49 goals represented 19.1 percent of the Capitals' total of 256. Washington will need others to produce, particularly the second line of [Andre] Burakovsky, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Defending the net front will also be a key.”

From Sportsnet: “Though the Capitals outshine Columbus when it comes to offensive star power, the Jackets are coming in hot, having ranked as the league’s highest-scoring club over the past month. If they can exploit the Caps’ goaltending issues, they’ll have a chance to knock off the Metropolitan Division champs. On Washington’s end, the key could come on special teams, where their seventh-ranked power play has the potential to overwhelm the Blue Jackets’ 26th-ranked penalty kill.”

From TSN: “Columbus had the fourth-best regular-season record in 2016-17. Their reward? A first-round matchup with the No. 2 Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blue Jackets bowed out in five games, victims of the NHL's divisional playoff format. This year's test against Washington won't be any easier after Columbus grabbed the East's first wild-card spot. Alex Ovechkin's 49 goals led the league for the seventh time. The Capitals have not made it out of the second round in 20 years. Will Washington finally takes that next step in the Ovechkin era? The Capitals will have to get past the Blue Jackets first.”

Expert picks

Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals Insider: Capitals in 6

JJ Regan, Capitals Correspondent: Capitals in 6

Joe Beninati, Capitals play-by-play announcer: Capitals in 6

Craig Laughlin, Capitals color commentator: Capitals in 6

Al Koken, Capitals on-ice reporter: Capitals in 6

Alan May, Capitals analyst: Capitals in 5

Rob Carlin, host of Capitals GameTIme and Capitals Extra: Capitals in 6

Ryan Billie, Capitals producer: Capitals in 6

Grant Paulsen, host of Capitals FaceOff and Capitals Overtime: Capitals in 7

Courtney Laughlin, Capitals FaceOff and Capitals Overtime panelist: Capitals in 6

Brent Johnson, Capitals analysts and former NHL player: Capitals in 6

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Capitals are shaking up the coaching staff in Hershey

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The Hershey Bears

Capitals are shaking up the coaching staff in Hershey

The contracts of Hershey Bears head coach Troy Mann and Bears assistant coach Ryan Murphy will not be renewed for next season, the Capitals announced Wednesday. Hershey finished in last place in the Atlantic Division and did not qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“Troy is a dedicated and hard-working coach and we appreciate all he has done for the Hershey Bears,” said Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. “At this point, we feel a fresh approach and a change in leadership is needed in order for us to continue to develop our young players towards the next level and for success at the AHL level. We also want to thank Ryan for his contributions to the Hershey Bears and wish him all the best.”

Just two seasons ago, the Bears under Mann were playing the Calder Cup Finals where they lost in four games to the Lake Erie Monsters. Mann served as an assistant coach for Hershey from 2009-2013 and was hired as the head coach in 2014. He led the Bears to a record of 162-102-22-18 during his tenure, good for sixth all-time among Hershey coaches in wins.

Mann coached several current Capitals players in Hershey including Travis Boyd, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos and Philipp Grubauer, among others. Hershey also currently boasts several of the Caps' biggest prospects such as Lucas Johansen, Connor Hobbs, Riley Barber and Jonas Siegenthaler.

Murphy was with the Bears for all four years of Mann's tenure. He started in video development in Mann's first season and was promoted to assistant coach the following year.

“We’d like to thank Troy Mann and Ryan Murphy for their contributions to the Hershey Bears organization,” said Hershey vice president of hockey operations, Bryan Helmer. “While we are looking to move our hockey club forward, today is certainly an emotional day. I had the pleasure of working with both Troy and Ryan behind the bench for two seasons, and consider them to be great people. We wish both all the best in future endeavors.”

Coaching in the AHL is a tough job as coaches are expected to bring the team success while also developing their NHL club's prospects. There are times when the two goals do not necessarily line up which can make it a difficult balance.

Considering how important it is to develop talent from within, AHL coaches are very significant parts of an organization. Getting the right guy in charge of Hershey won't just boost the AHL team, but will help the Caps down the line with developed players.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: And so we meet again

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: And so we meet again

We all knew this was coming, right?

The Capitals will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs for the third consecutive season and for the 11th time in franchise history. Washington has only beaten Pittsburgh once in their previous 10 series. This season gives them the opportunity to get over the second round and Pittsburgh hump once and for all.

Will this year be different? Will the Caps finally take down their arch nemesis? Will they finally advance to the conference final?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps-Penguins matchup in the Capitals Faceoff Podcast.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page