MONTREAL -- The Columbus Blue Jackets will welcome center Jeff Carter back to the lineup tonight when they face the Montreal Canadiens.
Carter missed the Blue Jackets' last game in Edmonton -- a 6-3 loss to the Oilers -- with a sprained ankle, but he declared himself fit and ready to go back to his spot next to Rick Nash on Columbus' top line.
"For the opposition coaches and the opposition players, he's a big threat," said Columbus coach Scott Arniel, who went without Carter for a 10-game stretch earlier this season. "When he's not there they can key on Nash and key on a few other people. Jeff, his ability to shoot the puck and to get into the offense and get open is so big. It helps our power play a lot and it makes teams adjust. We talked about it in the beginning of the year when we brought him in it would take some of the pressure off Rick. So when he's out, it is noticeable."
The Blue Jackets find themselves in the desperate situation of needing to make up ground in a hurry to save their season after an 0-7-1 start dug them into a serious hole.
Nash says that as captain, remaining positive has been a difficult task.
"It's been a tough job, for sure, especially as a leader on the team," he said. "You see the lowest that guys get, so it's tough to keep guys upbeat. But we knew we were going to work our way out of it. It's just a matter of making up as much ground as we can right now."
At the same time, Nash says it is just as important not to think of just how much ground there is left to make up.
"I think that's what we were doing early on in our losing streak, we were worrying about how we were going to make up all these games," Nash said. "But in that last few weeks we've taken it by period and even by five-minute segments within periods. We just tried to break it down as simply as we could and let the big picture take care of itself."
Curtis Sanford will get the start in goal against the Canadiens, his former employers last season when he was starring for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL. Sanford will face several of his old Bulldogs teammates, including P.K. Subban, David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty, Yannick Weber and Mathieu Darche, with whom he was especially tight.
"I consider them good friends," Sanford said. "But tonight, we're not going to be friends out there."
Meanwhile, Blue Jackets center Derrick Brassard -- a native Quebecer -- will be a healthy scratch for an eighth time in 12 games. In Carter's absence in Edmonton, Brassard got 16:42 of ice time -- his highest total in three weeks -- registering four shots on goal and a plus-1 rating.
"I try to talk to him a little bit. It's not an easy situation," said fellow Quebecer Antoine Vermette in French. "I'm trying to encourage him as much as I can, but it's hard on him. He's still maintaining a good attitude about it, though. He's not hanging his head around the other players, he's not being negative and he's working hard in practice. That's what he needs to do."
For the Canadiens it should be Carey Price starting in goal after making 64 saves on 68 shots over his last two outings, a shootout loss in San Jose and a 2-1 win in Los Angeles. Defenseman Frederic St-Denis is out of the lineup as a healthy scratch.