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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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Best 2017 Black Friday gift ideas for the Capitals fan in your life

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Best 2017 Black Friday gift ideas for the Capitals fan in your life

Are you looking for the hot holiday gift for the Capitals fan in your life? Well, look no further because we have the best ideas right here. 

Nothing looks better under the tree than red, white and blue gifts. And the best part about hockey season being in progress, your friends and family (don't forget to treat yourself, too) can use these gifts right now.

We've complied the top-ten must have Caps items for you to put in your shopping cart Friday.

1. Caps' Greatest Plays Coasters

Price: $50

Where to buy: Amazon

Why they'll love it: This set of four slate coasters showcase some of the greatest plays in Caps history. Each coaster includes player movements, date, score, and relevant play details, in addition to being super stylish.

2. Caps Ugly Christmas Sweater

Price: $69.99

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: They'll be the talk of the ugly sweater party with this one. The knit sweater is not only midweight, so they can wear it in comfort, but it also has the Caps logo woven into it. They'll be sure to stand out at the holiday party in addition to being warm and toasty.

3. Hockey Puck Phone Charger

Price: $29.99

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: Well first of all, it's cool. Second of all, everyone needs a phone charger so why not have a Capitals one and be the envy of all your hockey friends?

4. Pet Leash

Price: $14.99

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: This gift is great for both a friend or family member AND man's best friend. The bright red chain with embroidered Caps logo with certainly be a hit at the local dog park.

5. Caps Flask

Price: $54.98

Where to buy: Amazon

Why they'll love it: The holiday's and being around family can cause people to drink, so why not do it in style. This stainless steal flask has a hand-stitched needlepoint design and holds 6 fluid ounces of your favorite beverage.

6. Tie

Price: $18.74

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: Rock The Red everyday at work with this Capitals woven poly check tie. It will go great with a black or blue suit, not to mention they'll be the envy of everyone in the office.

7. Personalized Caps Wine Glass

Price: $22.49

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: Your friends and family will love to sit down and watch the Caps while drinking a glass of their favorite wine in this personalized Caps wine glass. Not only does it incorporate sophistication and hockey, but they'll no longer have to worry about someone stealing there drink.

8. Fidget Spinner

Price: $3.99

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: Get in on the trend with this Caps Fidget Spinner. Not only does it relieve stress, but it will keep the children (or adults) in your family occupied.

9. Camo Beanie

Price: $17.99

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: Keep your loved ones warm with a camo beanie. Camo is so hot right now and it will keep your loved ones heads warm while watching Ovi and company at Capital One Arena. 

10. Custom Built Cornhole Set 

Price: $195

Where to buy: Etsy

Why they'll love it: These handmade cornhole set is made to order and will be the envy of everyone at the beach or their next tailgate. With purchase, they'll receive a free set of corn bags and a free carrying case for the boards.

11. fuboTV Subscription

Price: $19.99/month for 2 months

Where to buy: fubotv.com

Why they'll love it: What better gift than the games themselves? Perfect for the cord-cutting Capitals fan on your list, fuboTV offers 80 streaming channels from sports to news to movies and more. Watch on all of your favorite devices including Roku, Apple TV, Amazon FireTV and AndroidTV or take it anywhere with the fuboTV app, available for both Android and iOS. If you're on the go, take advantage of fuboTV's cloud-based DVR service to record your favorite programs and watch them wherever you'd like. Even better? There are no hidden fees or long-term contracts and you can cancel anytime.

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Is it time to reunite the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

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USA TODAY Sports

Is it time to reunite the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

The Caps are struggling of late and the top six is a big reason why. Washington has lost three of its last four games and has been outscored in those four games 17-9, but the top six’s problems have been lingering for longer than just these past four games.

Nicklas Backstrom has only two even strength points in his last 13 games and no goals since Oct. 14. T.J. Oshie is producing well on the power play, but he is also struggling five-on-five with one goal and four assists in his past 17 games.

Likewise, the second line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Devante Smith-Pelly is also struggling. They have not scored an even-strength point in six games.

A team cannot be successful if its top players are not producing offensively. Do these recent struggles show that it is time for Washington to go back to the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

RELATED: HOW DID JOHNNY GAUDREAU GET SO WIDE OPEN?

Despite their past success, the trio has not started together at any point this season. Head coach Barry Trotz denied on Tuesday that he has any hesitancy towards putting those three back together and pointed out that he did actually use that line in the team’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

“In Colorado I tried to do that,” Trotz said, “Put Ovi, Osh and Backstrom against their second line and they allowed that and they didn't get any production so I'm trying it. Their top line outplayed our top line.”

When asked why he had not used the line from the start of a game, Trotz essentially dismissed the question saying, “Just don’t feel like it.”

Despite Trotz’s denial, there does seem to be some hesitancy from him to go back to a line that has been incredibly successful in the past. Backstrom and Ovechkin have been on the ice five-on-five for a grand total of 16:46 this season. In addition to Oshie who has been his consistent linemate, Backstrom has spent more even-strength ice time with Andre Burakovsky, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson and Tom Wilson than he has with Ovechkin.

Why?

One reason is Trotz remains unconcerned with Backstrom’s slump. While he may not be generating points, the chances are still there.

“Against Minnesota [Backstrom] could have had a hat trick and they're not going in easy for him,” Trotz said. “I think you have more concern when you're not getting any chances than when you are getting chances. When you're getting chances, you're obviously getting the good spots, you're doing lots of good things, they're just not going in for you. When you're not getting any chances and any looks, then it gets frustrating for you.”

Another reason is Backstrom’s defensive responsibilities. He is one of the team’s top shutdown forwards and defense is not a strong part of Ovechkin’s game. It is hard to put Backstrom in shut down situations if his line is not suited for those responsibilities.

Let’s say the Caps do unite Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie. What would the rest of the forward lines look like?

Here’s a possible projection:

Stephenson – Kuznetsov – Vrana
Connolly – Eller – Wilson
Smith-Pelly – Beagle – Chiasson

MORE CAPITALS: JAY BEAGLE GIVES THE DIRT ON WHAT BARRY TROTZ IS LIKE AS A COACH FOR THE PLAYERS

You can make your own lineup, but you can see there’s not a whole lot of depth behind that top line. This team is not nearly as deep as it has been in years past and the forward lines look even thinner when you put Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie all together on the top. This would be an incredibly top-heavy lineup and it is hard to find success that way.

Then again, they top-six is not having much success now.

Oshie admitted after practice Thursday he would like to see that line reunited, but he remains confident in Trotz’s lineup choices.

“Whatever [Trotz] thinks,” Oshie said. “My game doesn't change much from playing with one player to the next. We've played together at times this year, we've had a couple shifts together so I think he's just still trying to see what works and what he can use. I think we know that we can have success playing us three together. Whatever the lines are is just fine with me.”