On October 17, the Canadiens welcomed the Blue Jackets to the Bell Centre. Columbus arrived in La Belle Province toward the end of a run of particularly strong results for the Habs, and Montreal would do away with the Jackets as the had most of their opponents to-date.
Montreal jumped out to a 3-0 lead that night, before Columbus climbed back in, eventually tying up the match at 3-3. It would only be in the final minutes that Tomas Plekanec would take matters into his own hands, beating Sergei Bobrovsky with a long, screened wrister. Less than minute later, Plekanec would break up the Jackets' final effort, putting in an empty-netter as the the clock wound down and sealing up a 5-3 victory for the Habs.
On that night, the Canadiens had the benefit of not facing one of the Blue Jackets' most dangerous scorers, Marian Gaborik. In Gaborik's stead, the Columbus' young guns stepped out, with Boone Jenner coming away with a particularly successful evening. Tonight, in contrast, the Slovak winger will be available for the Jackets, while the former 37th overall pick will not.
The Habs may also enjoy the benefit of taking on Columbus back-up goaltender this evening, as the likely Olympic starter for Team Russia took on the Bruins last night. Assuming that Bob doesn't go again tonight, that would leave Curtis McElhinney left to shoulder the load this evening. McElhinney, who played for the Senators and Coyotes in recent years, has already played three starts for his new team, earning a .931 save percentage but only a 1-2 record. While McElhinney is a journeyman, he was solid in starts in Springfield of the AHL last year, and has been decent so far this year. It will bear watching if McElhinney can keep pace with Canadiens back-up Peter Budaj this evening.
Budaj has been remarkably solid when filling in for Carey Price, as he will be for tonight's game. Budaj has a .953 save percentage in his three starts so far this year, and has won two of those games. While he doesn't quite the provide the comfort and confidence that Price's presence in the crease does, Budaj has given as much as one can ask of a back-up goaltender in his recent play. By virtue of his former employment with the Colorado Avalanche and the Columbus' former residence in the Western Conference, Budaj is quite familiar with Nationwide Arena and its inhabitants. Saint Peter has made 12 starts against Columbus in his career, achieving a save percentage of .921 while winning seven of those matchups.
While the Habs have had to cope with an injured roster for most of the year, the Blue Jackets have coped with some missed man-games of their own. While Gaborik was injured in the earlier part of the year and has since returned, the aforementioned Jenner has taken his spot of the IR. Meanwhile, speedy winger Matt Calvert is still recovering the surgery he underwent just prior to the Jackets' last game with the Habs, while big free agent signee Nathan Horton is still yet to play a game. The Canadiens are slowly returning to health, but will still be without Brandon Prust and Alexei Emelin as they aim to return for Saturday's game with the Rangers. With Gabriel Dumont returned to the Hamilton Bulldogs, George Parros looks likely to play on the fourth line. Similarly, with no other option available to the big league squad at the moment, Michel Therrien will likely be forced to ice the beloved pair of Bouillon and Murray once again.
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