The Columbus Blue Jackets, like the New Jersey Devils, are a team that the Canadiens should be able to handle. After failing to really handle the Devils on two consecutive occasions, Montreal might have to work a little harder to make sure that "should" becomes "did" this evening.
The Habs swept the Blue Jackets last year, and given their respective positions in the standings, one might expect a similar result tonight. Despite claiming three of four possible points in their back-to-back set with the Devils, however, things didn't look quite right.
In a two-game span, the Canadiens' demonstrated both a poor start and poor finish, and in almost 130 minutes of ice time, never seemed fully in control.
Tonight, facing another squad from the division they've fared so well against so far, they'll seek to put together a better effort while facing a similar challenge.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
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Know Your Enemy
The makeup of the Columbus Blue Jackets bears some similarities to that of the Devils. While lacking depth, the top of the roster includes some dangerous players. Each member of first line of Ryan Johansen, Brandon Saad, and Boone Jenner is scoring at an over-55-point pace, while Scott Hartnell, Cam Atkinson, and Brandon Dubinsky provide effective support.
The bottom of the roster is offensively barren, however. Composed of prototypical fourth liners (Gregory Campbell), unlucky would-be scorers (see Nick Foligno's 1.6% shooting), and a host of young players, the bottom-six has been unproductive for Columbus, making them a middle-of-the-road team when it comes to putting pucks in their opponents' nets.
While lacking the sterling quality of Corey Schneider's numbers year-to-date, Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky does offer his team a similar ability to steal games from the crease. Since an exceptionally poor start for both team and player, Bobrovsky has rebounded, and reeled off several quality starts as the Blue Jackets have righted their course somewhat.
While their overall points pace puts them firmly in draft lottery territory, they've performed more like a bubble playoff team in the standings since John Tortorella took over. With seven points to go, and three games played to make-up, before they catch the wildcard-occupying Boston Bruins, the Canadiens can certainly expect some urgency.
Last Time Out
That urgency was not on display when these two teams last met, as the Habs pulled off a 5-2 victory to complete the season sweep. P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov both ripped first period slapshots passed Curtis McElhinney, sandwiching what had been a quick reply to Subban's goal by Brandon Dubinsky. Max Pacioretty would connect on a one-timer from the slot to make it 3-1, before Jacob de la Rose scored his first two NHL goals, including an empty-netter, to wrap-up the victory.
The game essentially bore out the assumptions presented pre-game; the Blue Jackets lacked a true answer for the Canadiens stars, nor sufficient depth to counter the Habs on special teams or at the bottom of their lineup.
The likely best-case scenario for Columbus, as it is tonight, was be to count on their goaltending to equalize the talent difference between the two teams' skaters. When that didn't happen last time, it left Montreal to claim the night's two points.
Last season's results aside, however, the Habs should be wary tonight. For two consecutive games, the Canadiens' play on the ice did not match-up to the advantage they held on paper. Playing a team somewhat similar to the one that nearly upset them twice on the weekend, the Habs will look to avoid a third strike tonight.