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Capitals' 2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Capitals' 2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Last season, the Metropolitan Division was the toughest in the NHL, producing the Stanley Cup champ, the regular season champ and three of the top four teams in the overall standings.

How’s the division shaping up for 2017-18 after a summer of change for a few of its eight teams?

This week, CSN is taking a look at each club's offseason moves and predicting how they’ll do this winter.

RELATED: CSN'S 2017-18 CAPITALS PREVIEW

Team: Columbus Blue Jackets

2016-17 Results: 50-24-8 (108 points). Third in division, 3rd in conference. Eliminated in the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games.

Notable acquisitions: C Jordan Schroeder, LW Artemi Panarin, C Tyler Motte

Notable departures: C Sam Gagner, LW Scott Hartnell, D Kyle Quincey, RW David Clarkson, LW Brandon Saad, G Anton Forsberg, C William Karlsson

When they will play the Caps: At Washington Dec. 2, at Columbus Feb. 6, at Washington Feb. 9, at Columbus Feb. 26

MORE CAPITALS: WHY IS PHEONIX COPLEY IMPORTANT FOR THE CAPS THIS SEASON?

2017-18 Blue Jackets Analysis:

The Blue Jackets were arguably the biggest surprise of the regular season last year, but they will enter the 2016-17 season with more doubters than you would expect for a young up-and-coming team that finished with the fourth best record in the league.

After a great regular season that included a 16-game win streak, Columbus fell in the first round of the playoffs to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The biggest difference was the play of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy for an incredible regular season that saw him post a .931 save percentage and 2.06 GAA. The playoffs saw a massive regression with a .882 save percentage and 3.88 GAA. It’s hard to win when your goalie is putting up numbers like that, but the fact that the Blue Jackets’ postseason lasted only five games shows just how important he is to his team’s success.

In addition to Bobrovsky, Columbus also returns a strong, young core that is looking to take the next step this season. Cam Atkinson led the team with 62 points last season, Alex Wennberg scored 59 points at the age of 22 and Zach Werenski was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. The one thing this team seemed to lack last season was a dynamic goal scorer. To address that, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen pulled off a big trade with the Chicago Blackhawks to acquire Artemi Panarin.

Playing alongside Patrick Kane, Panarin has scored 61 goals and 90 assists in his first two NHL seasons. The Blue Jackets are betting Panarin can remain as productive in Columbus even without Kane.

The Blue Jackets lose some production with Brandon Saad and Sam Gagner, but they could bolster their ranks with prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois if he is able to make the NHL squad. In the QMJHL, Dubois tallied 55 points in just 48 games.

2017-18 Blue Jackets Season prediction:

The biggest question for Columbus is how will Bobrovsky respond to his postseason performance? Ultimately it may be unreasonable to expect him to play as lights out as he did last season, but the Blue Jackets cannot compete in the toughest division in hockey if he plays like he did in the playoffs.

In addition to Bobrovsky, a lot will be riding on the shoulders of Panarin. He is a good pick up, but ultimately no one knows what he will be without Kane. How will he play when defenses are game planning for him? Even if Panarin disappoints, however, the arrow is still trending up for Columbus.

The Blue Jackets are not going to catch anyone by surprise like they did last season. If they hope to stay among the top teams in the Metropolitan Division, they will have to earn it. To me, this team is absolutely a playoff team and a dangerous one at that, but still likely a year away from winning the division. They may be better than last season, but too much went right for them to not expect some regression. Still, the future looks very bright for Columbus.

More Metro Division previews:

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Tarik El-Bashir's three stars from Caps vs. Maple Leafs

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Tarik El-Bashir's three stars from Caps vs. Maple Leafs

In a rematch of last year’s ridiculously entertaining first round playoff matchup, the high-flying Maple Leafs skated away with a 2-0 victory over the Caps on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena. The Caps are now 3-3-1 on the season.

Here are Tarik’s three stars of the game.

1-Connor Brown, Maple Leafs

Most people had Brown scoring the decisive goal, right? The winger started the season on the fourth line but was promoted to the third line ahead of this game—and he made the most of the opportunity. At 5:53 of the third period, Brown fought off Evgeny Kuznetsov, pounced on a rebound and pounded the puck between Braden Holtby’s pads. Interestingly, the Leafs came into the game leading the league in goals per at 5.20.

2-Braden Holtby, Capitals

The Caps’ starter did all he could, turning away 28 of 29 shots he faced. Holts was at his best on the penalty kill, where he stopped all three shots the Leafs put on him. His best save of the game likely came in the opening moments of the game—a right pad stop on James van Riemsdyk, who was looking to finish a 2-on-1.

3-John Carlson, Capitals

With Matt Niskanen week-to-week with an upper body injury, the minutes load has fallen on No. 74’s shoulders. And it did again vs. Toronto. Carlson finished with 27:33 of ice time. He also had a couple of good looks early on but he couldn’t finish.

Do you agree? Give us your thoughts in the comments.

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A Caps team already without Eller and Niskanen loses Graovac in first period against Toronto

A Caps team already without Eller and Niskanen loses Graovac in first period against Toronto

The Capitals came into Tuesday's game a bit shorthanded with Lars Eller out due to an illness and Matt Niskanen on LTIR. They lost yet another player in the first period as Tyler Graovac out for the rest of the night due to an upper-body injury.

Graovac took two hits from Leafs forward Matt Martin that may have led to the injury. 

RELATED: FIXING 'SWISS CHEESE' DEFENSE NOW A TOP PRIORITY FOR CAPS

Martin gave Graovac a two-handed shove in the back that knocked Graovac to the ice. You can see after the play Graovac doubles back to have a quick word with Martin after the hit.

Graovac took another hit from Martin on his next shift.

This time, Graovac appears to see Martin coming and leans into the check, but took the full brunt of the hit on his left shoulder. He can be seen favoring his left arm/shoulder later before exiting down the tunnel.

Graovac was in Tuesday's lineup centering the third line in place of the sick Eller.

MORE CAPITALS: DON'T MESS WITH TOM WILSON