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Canadiens @ Blue Jackets: Game preview, start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch

The winning streak over, the Canadiens have an excellent chance to get back in the win column.

Philadelphia Flyers v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images

Montreal Canadiens @ Columbus Blue Jackets

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: Bally Sport Ohio

The New Jersey Devils have left plenty of teams in their wake this season, and on Tuesday the Canadiens were the latest club to be humbled during an ongoing 10-game winning streak. New Jersey went into the game as the top possession and scoring-chance team in the NHL, and that pattern played out over the course of their 5-1 win.

Perhaps things would have turned out differently if the Habs had been able to score on any of their 15 shots in what was a very good first period. They dictated play in the opening frame and had several good chances. With the long change in the second period, however, the stifling defensive structure the Devils employed took over to close down all the passing lanes, and the final 40 minutes were no fun for the home team and the Bell Centre fans.

From what could turn out to be the top seed from the Metropolitan Division, the opponent for the Canadiens tonight is the one destined to finish at the bottom of the group. The Columbus Blue Jackets have registered a paltry 11 points, and their abysmal -22 goal differential through 15 games is second only to the Anaheim Ducks, whom they’re tied with for the final spot in the standings.

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistics Blue Jackets
Canadiens Statistics Blue Jackets
8-7-1 Record 5-9-1
45.1% (26th) Scoring-chances-for % 44.9% (27th)
2.94 (21st) Goals per game 2.87 (23rd)
3.31 (21st) Goals against per game 4.33 (32nd)
15.9% (29th) PP% 10.5% (32nd)
79.6% (13th) PK% 78.6% (15th)
0-3-0 H2H Record (21-22) 3-0-0

This probably isn’t what Johnny Gaudreau was envisioning when he signed a seven-year contract at just under $10 million with the Blue Jackets in the off-season. He and Matthew Tkachuk were among the top stories in the summer following their departures from the Calgary Flames. The move is working out well enough for Tkachuk, who is on pace for another 100-point season with the Florida Panthers. But after leading the Flames with 115 points last year, Gaudreau is well off that pace in Columbus, projected to finish below the point-per-game mark for the third time in the past four seasons.

Relative to his teammates, Gaudreau is matching his success from a year ago, heading the leaderboard for the Blue Jackets by three points over his centreman, Boone Jenner. He simply doesn’t have the supporting cast in his new city, and that’s especially true with Patrik Laine, his most common wingman, out of action yet again. Looking across the ice and seeing either Gustav Nyquist or Emil Bemstrom isn’t quite the same.

A large portion of his missing offence can be blamed on the Blue Jackets’ poor power play, one of several categories in which they find themselves dead-last in the NHL, at 10.5%. As bad as Montreal has been in that situation, they’re still 50% more efficient at scoring goals while up a man than tonight’s opponent. Perhaps as a result of pressing to score, the Blue Jackets are also one of the worst at allowing chances against during their own man advantages, surrendering 12 scoring opportunities every 60 minutes, or two chances every five power plays they receive.

All this talk about the team’s offence is burying the lede of Columbus’s early-season story, however, because their defensive play just isn’t up to the league standard. Even if Gaudreau were helping the team score four goals a night, it would still lose more than it wins while sporting a 4.33 goals-against average — another league-worst stat.

The majority of these goals are coming at five-on-five. The team allows the second-most shots in the league, and a team five-on-five save percentage of .884 (yes, that’s also the worst in the NHL) hasn’t given the club a chance to hold out long enough to launch a counter-attack.

Head coach Brad Larsen has dispatched three netminders to address the problem. Regular starter Elvis Merzlikins only hit a .900 save percentage once this season, and at no time in the past seven tries, including the game on Tuesday in which he left halfway through with an injury. The team tried Daniil Tarasov (.893) in the first month while Jonas Korpisalo was absent recovering from hip surgery performed late last season. Finally, with Korpisalo now cleared to play, the coach has a somewhat stable option to send to the crease, as the netminder has posted an acceptable .910 mark in four games played in November, and that’s been good enough for a 2-1-1 record.

Montreal’s response will be Samuel Montembeault and his .930 save percentage; a goaltender who hasn’t given up more than three goals in any game this year. The Habs, therefore, have the edge between the pipes in this match, and their young defencemen, despite some recent bobbles, are much more composed than tonight’s counterparts. It should also be a freer game for the Habs’ top-line forwards than what they faced on Tuesday, going up against a club that has allowed more than two goals in all but two contests this season.

All the numbers are in the Canadiens’ favour. It should be a great opportunity to put a rough night behind them and perhaps begin a new winning streak with several more beatable opponents on the horizon.