How to watch
Start time: 7:30 PM EST / 4:30 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Blue Jackets region: Fox Sports - Ohio
Elsewhere: NHL.tv / Rogers NHL Live
Despite starting out the toughest portion of the season schedule in style with three points in the first two games, and solid play in parts of the matches that followed, as far as the standings are concerned, the Montreal Canadiens are in a slide. It’s good that the team was able to outshoot the Toronto Maple Leafs, outplay the Nashville Predators in a second period on the road, and hang with the Tampa Bay Lightning for 40 minutes, but this close to the end of the season, only wins matter in the grand scheme of things.
While it perhaps should have been expected that the Canadiens would score a three out of eight on their Stanley Cup readiness test, a failure to take even a single point in Sunday’s game versus the Florida Panthers was a result Montreal should have avoided. Now fighting for a wild-card spot, not having that win at the end of the season is going to make the quest for a playoff berth more difficult.
After going 0-3 on the trip, the Canadiens now return home for two games before packing up for another week on the road. They can’t afford to have many more poor performances if the playoffs are going to remain a realistic goal.
Tale of the Tape
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The short homestand begins with a visit from a Columbus Blue Jackets team in a similar position, sitting as one of three teams with 69 points in the Eastern Conference. Columbus learned in their game last night what the Canadiens did a few days ago: no matter how well you play against the Tampa Bay Lightning, they’ll more often than not find a way to come away with the win. Despite outshooting the NHL’s top team 19-6 in the first period, they found themselves down two Nikita Kucherov goals, and watched on as the Art Ross leader added another three primary assists in 5-1 decision.
The Blue Jackets had prepare quickly and head north to take on the Canadiens for a second time this season. Montreal won the first match on the road to cap off a season-high four-game winning streak. Tomas Tatar scored the first goal in the opening period and then the eventual game-winner in a 4-1 win, with Joel Armia sealing the result with two goals of his own late in the third period. Carey Price was the busier of the two netminders, making 34 saves on the night.
Price will more than likely get the call again tonight. He’s only remained on the bench for one of the Habs’ games over the last month, as Claude Julien was compelled to cut his rest short on Sunday night after Antti Niemi allowed three goals in just over half a period of play.
The goaltender will probably see a lot of pucks tonight as well. Despite the score, Columbus finished last night’s contest with 40 shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy. A hot or cold team over the past few months, the Blue Jackets are currently enjoying one of their good stretches, with five wins in their last seven games. However, as is the nature of such streaks, a loss tonight would count as the third in their last four games as fortunes change quickly in the late-season rush to get into the playoffs before the door slams shut.
Despite constant talk of his status with the team, Artemi Panarin continues to pile up points, leading the club by 12 in that department. The forward has 21 multi-point outings in 56 games this season, eight of which have come in his last 17 contests. He’s doing his part to help keep his club in a Metropolitan Division spot.
The Canadiens have been getting good offensive production of their own. Other than the one goal they managed from the games against both the Predators and Lightning, they have been potting at least three goals regularly in the month of February, and a great balance among the forward lines is really helping in that area.
Andrew Shaw’s return has brought a new element to Max Domi’s line, giving the Canadiens three trios capable of spending significant time in the offensive zone. The main issue for the Habs has been untimely mistakes and defensive lapses causing quick-strike goals against that ruin generally solid play. It’s the main area the team needs to clean up if they plan to play beyond the first week of April.