The Montreal Canadiens begin the second half of a six-game homestand tonight when they play host to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Canadiens come in having lost just three of their previous 10 games, and ground out a 2-1 overtime victory versus the Buffalo Sabres in their most recent game. Sitting at 1-6-1 after the first eight games of the season, the Canadiens have come back to a more respectable record, and could be as high as 10th in the conference with favourable results in tonight’s games.
Helping their cause has been the play of Charlie Lindgren, who has stabilized the goaltending position and limited the goals against that had grown to an inflated value early in the season. He has yet to allow more than two goals in any of his seven NHL starts to date.
At the opposite end of the ice, the offence that had been running hot after the return from the California trip has tapered off, with just seven goals in their last four games, and only one on the power play in that span.
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The Blue Jackets aren’t listening to any complaints from other teams about cold man-advantage units. They are dead last in the NHL with a sub-10% power-play efficiency, as their top players just haven’t been able to convert their special-teams chances so far this season.
The good news for both of tonight’s teams is that they’ve been able to control the play at five-on-five. Montreal and Columbus sit among the top four teams in terms of shot-attempts-for percentage this season, though the Blue Jackets have seen more success on the scoreboard, with the second-highest total of five-on-five goals (43, versus 30 for Montreal), and the third-best goals-for percentage (57.3%, versus the Habs’ 44.1%).
The Blue Jackets have needed that full-strength offence to help them keep pace in a tightly contested Metropolitan Division. Columbus is currently in the second spot in the division, but are just three points up on the last-place team, which has one game in hand.
The Canadiens’ attempts to boost their offensive production will be challenged by the reigning Vezina Trophy-winner, Sergei Bobrovsky, tonight. The Russian netminder once again occupies a position among the top goalies in the NHL, and turned heads with an incredible effort on a two-man breakaway on the weekend.
It will be a battle between an established goaltender and a rookie just beginning to make his mark. The outcome of tonight’s game could very well be determined in the play of the men between the pipes.