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

The Habs need to bring themselves out of a slump.

Ottawa Senators 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 Sports Ohio

Presented with a sequence of games versus several poor teams, the Montreal Canadiens had a chance to build upon a fairly strong start to the season. Instead, after playing the Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, and Buffalo Sabres in the past week, they’ve managed just a 1-2-1 record. Worse than the results is the uninspired play they’ve had on the ice, and the bewilderingly poor starts to their last two games.

The quick deficit the team was handed versus the Flyers on Saturday can be forgiven. It was Mike Matheson’s first game of the season, and it was expected that he would need some time to adjust to the NHL game. A comeback effort made it easy to let the slow start to the night pass. But the Habs got fooled for a second time last night, giving up two goals in the first minute, and then another one just over a minute later. Unlike the previous game, however, there was no comeback in this one. In fact, if the officials had given the Habs a mulligan for those opening two minutes the team wasn’t prepared to play, it still would have lost the game, outscored 4-2 over the remaining 58 minutes of actions.

That effort can’t be so easily swept under the rug. For whatever reason, the Habs haven’t shown up to the rink on time in recent games and were lucky not to lose all four points as a result, needing a Cole Caufield goal in the dying seconds to salvage a result on Saturday.

For the latter game of their current back-to-back set, the Habs are headed back to Nationwide Arena for the second time in seven days, the place where we can say this slump began as it kicked off the lighter schedule. Montreal didn’t take the Blue Jackets seriously last time, and the shame will all be on the visitor if they can’t avenge that 6-4 loss to arguably the worst defensive team in the NHL.

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistics Blue Jackets
Canadiens Statistics Blue Jackets
9-9-1 Record 7-10-1
45.0% (26th) Scoring-chances-for % 43.3% (27th)
3.00 (19th) Goals per game 3.06 (18th)
3.68 (29th) Goals against per game 4.33 (32nd)
16.1% (28th) PP% 14.0% (31st)
79.4% (13th) PK% 76.5% (21st)
0-1-0 H2H Record 1-0-0

After this recent stretch of games, the Canadiens are falling into contention for that title. Allowing 26 goals in their past five games, they’ve slipped from a respectable 17th in the league at 3.14 goals surrendered per game down to 29th at 3.68. A week after they played the Blue Jackets for the first time, there isn’t a whole lot to separate the teams from a statistical viewpoint save the number in the points column. The Habs would have to allow 34 goals over their next five games to reach the same average as their opponent, so — we’ll hope — Columbus can hold onto that belt for a while longer.

Following a rough night for Jake Allen at home (some young fan probably has the broken stick to prove it), we can probably expect to see Samuel Montembeault in the net, as he was last Thursday. It was his roughest game so far, and really the only bad one he’s played all season. He only faced chances totaling two expected goals against at five-on-five, but allowed five of the shots to go in. With the defence corps having its own issues adjusting to new pairings and players coming in and out of the lineup on a rotation, Montreal will need him to look more like the goaltender from his first five starts.

In addition to probably not seeing Matheson out for the opening shift of the game following consecutive disastrous starts, we will likely also see Arber Xhekaj return to the formation, possibly with Johnny Kovacevic, or the coach may decide that just one player at a time is the way to go. It’s not an easy situation for the coach to deal with, but lopsided losses at least make any benchings easier to dole out.

Xhekaj was one of Montreal’s best players versus Columbus on November 17. Not only was he one of only two players to finish with a plus (Christian Dvorak was the other), the team controlled about 80% of the scoring chances while he was on the ice at five-on-five. Montreal could use more of that, especially to help get some of the lower lines going, and as bad as the power play has been, his presence at least provides a different option to get a puck on net that it struggles to find without him. It would be nice to see Kaiden Guhle get more time in man-advantage situations, but since St-Louis seems to prefer to save the 2020 first-rounder for more defensive responsibilities, Xhekaj is at least an upgrade on what the team tried in its zero-for-six showing a night ago.

When the Canadiens last visited Ohio, they seemed to want to toy with the opponent. They had no issue getting to dangerous areas, but wanted to create highlight-reel goals off difficult passes. Perhaps after their recent results, they will adopt Xhekaj’s persona for this one and put in a more workmanlike performance to score some goals, save the cannon’s powder, and head into Friday’s matinée in Chicago on a winning note.