Game 7: Montreal Canadiens vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
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After two bad seasons, the Columbus Blue Jackets sunk even lower last year, ending with a single point up on the last-place Anaheim Ducks. The Blue Jackets won just 25 games, a full-season total they hadn’t seen since their first few years as an expansion franchise.
However, like many Montreal Canadiens fans, followers of the team were cheering the numerous losses down the stretch, each making it slightly more likely they would land Connor Bedard. In the end, the lottery balls fell in favour of the Chicago Blackhawks instead, but the Blue Jackets got their consolation by winning the second run of the lottery, selecting a player who had first-overall pedigree of his own: Adam Fantilli.
With that critical piece set to be inserted into the team, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen went to work addressing his defence. He made a trade with the New Jersey Devils a few weeks after the draft lottery to bring in Damon Severson, then two days later acquired Ivan Provorov in a three-team trade. He was also confident he would have the previous year’s first-round selection, David Jiricek, in the mix for the season, and expected Zach Werenski back after he played just 13 games in 2022-23 before a major shoulder injury.
Kekalainen also brought in Mike Babcock to lead the newly assembled squad. That partnership failed in spectacular fashion when Babcock was forced to relinquish the position before the season even started. Now with Pascal Vincent behind the bench, the new-look lineup is responding as the GM had hoped.
|48.4% (22nd)||Scoring-chances-for %||46.1% (26th)|
|3.00 (15th)||Goals per game||2.83 (19th)|
|3.33 (19th)||Goals against per game||3.17 (16th)|
|16.7% (18th)||PP%||14.3% (20th)|
|75.8% (19th)||PK%||85.0% (10th)|
|2-1-0||Head-to-Head Record (22-23)||1-2-0|
At the top of the team’s leaderboard sits Provorov with five points in six games. Three of the top seven scorers in this early going are defencemen, with Jake Bean and Werenski being the others. Severson has two points of his own, and leads the team with a +3 rating.
The offence from the back end is only one of the advantages for the team. An overhaul was needed after the club gave up four goals per game last season, making it impossible to string wins together. From the second-worst defence, Columbus currently sits 16th, shaving nearly a goal per game off its average .
As for Fantilli, he is just behind Provorov and Boone Jenner on the scoring list, with two goals and two assists already, the same totals as Bedard. Outside of Fanitlli and Jenner, the forwards are having just as much trouble scoring this season as they did last. Johnny Gaudreau has just three points so far, and Patrik Laine had two before being injured by Rasmus Andersson’s suspension-worthy hit at the end of game four.
There is no loaded top line for the Canadiens to watch out for like there was with Jack Hughes’s trio when they faced New Jersey. Nor does the team pose as great a threat to punish the Habs for every penalty they take. The situation before Montreal is to get back into the win column after being denied a three-game winning streak on Tuesday, but they’ll have to outplay an opponent that matches up well across the board to get that fourth victory.