How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Blue Jackets region: Fox Sports-Ohio
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/Rogers NHL Live
Being a Montreal Canadiens fan is very confusing these days. On the one hand, the team has won four of its last five games, including victories over teams featuring the two best lines in hockey: the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche. On the other, the Habs are only a week removed from lethargic and uninspiring outings against the Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings, and St. Louis Blues, and pessimists will point to the shot clock for both the Boston game and the subsequent win against the Florida Panthers and proclaim (perhaps even loudly) that the team should really have five defeats in eight matches in the new year.
Meanwhile, many kilometres away, the Habs are in Columbus, preparing to face the Blue Jackets for the first time this season. While it’s never safe to ignore the underlying performances behind the results, the actual results themselves have the Habs sitting in the first wild-card position, two points back of the Bruins and three of the vaunted juggernaut Toronto Maple Leafs — a situation that every Habs fan likely would have taken heading into the campaign.
Tale of the Tape
|1-1-1||H2H Record (17-18)||2-1-0|
|53.7% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||49.8% (17th)|
|3.00 (13th)||Goals per game||3.30 (9th)|
|2.96 (16th)||Goals against per game||3.02 (20th)|
|12.9% (31st)||PP%||14.5% (27th)|
|79.2% (17th)||PK%||82.0% (10th)|
Consistency has been a trouble spot for the Habs all season in terms of both results and performance. Their longest winning streak has been three games (accomplished three times, including the currently active run). Conversely, outside of a single five-game run of losses, the Habs have yet to lose more than twice in succession all year. Tonight, the team will have a chance to secure their first four-game winning streak of the 2018-19 season.
Unfortunately, they’ll have to do it without Paul Byron, who will be serving the first game of his three-game suspension. It remains unclear at this point who will draw into the lineup and how the lines will be shuffled to replace the speedster, but Charles Hudon was skating in Byron’s spot next to Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia during Thursday’s practice, with Matthew Peca occasionally slotting in.
The Blue Jackets entered the season on the back of another playoff disappointment, dropping four straight games to the Washington Capitals after taking the first two on the road. To make matters more complicated, the impending free agency of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, arguably the team’s two best players, loomed over a team that had to decide whether they were ready to throw the dice and go all-in, or to obtain something at the trade deadline before their talent walked away for nothing.
The Panarin saga has been relatively benign; while the supremely talented Russian has never expressed more than lukewarm sentiments toward staying in Columbus, his on-ice performance hasn’t diminished in the slightest. Indeed, Panarin is on pace for a career year, which is saying something given that the Korkino native has topped 70 points in every one of his three completed NHL campaigns thus far.
Bobrovsky, on the other hand, has been the centre of much controversy. The netminder’s statistics have slipped considerably, resulting in head coach John Tortorella giving backup Joonas Korpisalo 18 starts already of the 51 games the Blue Jackets have played. Bobrovsky has only played four times in 2019, essentially alternating starts with Korpisalo, and it’s the Finn who’s emerged as the superior goaltender, especially given that Bobrovsky was pulled in favour of Korpisalo in two of his four outings. Bobrovsky hasn’t done himself any favours either, reportedly removing his equipment after being pulled against the Tampa Bay Lightning and heading straight to the showers.
Despite the travails of their star goaltender, the Blue Jackets find themselves at the top of the Metropolitan Division, having overtaking the slumping Washington Capitals on the back of a four-game winning streak and five victories in their last six. Panarin’s stellar season has already been noted, but the Jackets are also getting breakout campaigns from Cam Atkinson (27G, 21A) and Pierre-Luc Dubois (17G, 25A). On the blue line, Zach Werenski and Seth Jones have already amassed 27 points each.
The Canadiens have a chance to really put themselves in the driver’s seat, as not only will a victory in Columbus give them that elusive fourth consecutive victory, but given that their next five games are all at home against teams with point percentages considerably below the Habs’ .594 — the Philadelphia Flyers (.447), Arizona Coyotes (.489), New Jersey Devils (.467), Edmonton Oilers (.521), and Anaheim Ducks (.500) — the Habs have a chance to really make a run here and put some daylight between them and their competitors for those last playoff spots.