The Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets are both fighting for the same thing: an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
For the Canadiens, getting to the playoffs is a surety, both in terms of expectations and their current standing in the conference table. The Habs have ridden their best hockey of the season to a recent hot streak, a three game win streak that they'll put on the line this evening. Their possession numbers haven't been so consistently good since the beginning of the season. The return of Carey Price, addition of Thomas Vanek, and subtraction of Douglas Murray have given the Canadiens such much-needed stability of late. While there are still problems, there's appears to be genuine sense of optimism among the team's fans, at least on EOTP. The Montreal Canadiens are turning a corner.
When Marc Bergevin and his front office team made the decision to spend a prospect and pick to add Vanek, the message was loud and clear: the Canadiens are going for it. With 83 points on the season, seven clear of the ninth place Washington Capitals, it would take an epic collapse for Montreal to find themselves out of a playoff spot on April 14. With that in mind, it's time for the real work to begin.
The Blue Jackets are in something of a different position. Under the leadership of John Davidson and Jarmo Kekäläinen, Columbus has the type of stable front office group they need to get to the next level. In Ohio, the outlook is of a little longer term than it is in Quebec: get to the playoffs, do it again next year, and prove that the franchise is ready to compete consistently. Working from that different perspective, the Blue Jackets took the opposite approach of the Canadiens, selling dangerous (but expensive, and oft-injured) winger Marian Gaborik for youngster Matt Frattin and picks. The Jackets have a strong collection of young talent, especially up front, and will lean on those players even more with Gaborik out of the picture.
Of course, those young players have already done plenty to show they belong as contributors in the NHL. Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner, at ages 21 and 20, respectively, are each members of the Blue Jackets' first line. In an October loss to the Habs, the two combined for three goals, showing a great deal of skill in the process. For example, how about this Johansen snipe?
Or, if net-front aggression is more your speed, Boone Jenner pounced on a rebound in the same game.
With Nathan Horton now fully healed and joining these two up-and-comers on the top unit, the Jackets have the making of an elite trio.
Tale of the Tape
These two teams have their similarities. Their skaters are playing their best hockey of the season, earning strong possession results over their last ten games despite the bounces going against them. Their goaltenders, Price and Bobrovsky, each rank among the NHL's best. Both teams are ramping up at just the right time, hoping that their late season momentum carries them to a strong playoff showing.
When Montreal geared up at the trade deadline, and Columbus flipped an asset, the two teams showed their divergent philosophies. Now, we'll see which team can leverage their hand into a stronger result.