The Blue Jackets continue their three-game home stand on Wednesday night when the Montreal Canadiens visit Nationwide Arena, the first meeting between the teams this season. The Canadiens sit second in the Atlantic Division, three points behind first-place Tampa Bay but with three games in hand. They’ve been one of the league’s best defensive teams from day one, with a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman and a potential Vezina candidate on the roster, as well as a strong defensive system under head coach Michel Therrien. Their 95 goals against this season are tied for second fewest in the NHL.
Carey Price is the guy between the pipes, making his first of two visits to Columbus in January. Price was selected to the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game and already has 22 wins this season (third in the NHL), a .922 save percentage (third), and two shutouts. Price was playing at a high enough level last season to possibly carry the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup Final before an injury in the Eastern Conference Final ended his playoff.
The Canadiens feature a scoring attack that is not overwhelming (ranked 21st in goals scored), but is sufficiently balanced. Max Pacioretty leads the team in scoring with 33 points and a plus-22 rating in 41 games. Three other Habs are in double digits in goal scoring, with youngsters Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher scoring 10 and 11, respectively, and veteran Tomas Plekanec netting 11 as well. The danger in Montreal is the production from their depth players. Traditional role players like Dale Weiss and Brandon Prust have seen their roles increased this season, and rookie Jiri Sekac has proven himself to be an everyday NHLer. The three have combined for 15 goals and 41 points this year.
The Habs have won seven of their last 10 games, and their 13 road wins are tied for the second-most in the NHL.
The Blue Jackets defeated the Canadiens at Bell Centre last March, a 3-2 decision won on the stick of Ryan Johansen. With the game tied 2-2 in the third period with just over three minutes to play, Johansen hustled back into his own zone chasing down Canadiens forward Lars Eller. With the help of Nathan Horton, Johansen swiped the puck off Eller’s stick and flicked it back to neutral ice. Defenseman Jarred Tinordi chased after the puck and went to regroup with his defense partner, but there was Johansen still in persuit, intercepting the pass and skating in on Price. Johansen fought off the back-check and buried the game winner for Columbus.
In a losing effort, the first star of the game was still Carey Price, who made 37 saves on 40 shots. Sergei Bobrovsky got the win for the Jackets, stopping 25 of 27 shots. Brandon Dubinsky and Derek MacKenzie also scored for the Jackets.
Subban was one of the notable names left off the roster for the upcoming All-Star festivities in Columbus. It was a surprise to many because of just how explosive a force Subban can be. One of the best offensive defensemen in the game, Subban has a rocket of a shot and the confidence to jump into the rush at any moment. He’s arguably the team’s best skater and plays with an edge that teammates love and opponents hate. Subban’s heavy hitting style combined with his offense makes him a prototype for a game-changing blue liner. Subban already has eight goals and 27 points, second on the team, and is on pace to set career-highs in both categories. Coupled with Andrei Markov, another strong offensive defenseman who has managed to stay healthy, the duo is one of the best point combinations in the game.
Max Pacioretty was an Olympian last year with a terrific 39-goal 60-point season, not to mention 11 points in the playoffs. Pacioretty has backed up that production with the same offensive pace this year, if not better, establishing himself as the most dangerous weapon up front for Montreal. That has only been further confirmed in recent weeks, with Pacioretty in the midst of a four-game goal-scoring streak. He has goals in five of the last six games (5-1-6) and has a plus-5 rating over that stretch, feeding his plus-22 rating that is fourth in the league. Pacioretty has played well and produced both at even strength and on the power play for Montreal, and his play is one of the reasons why they've had success in 2014-15.
Do Jackets "Hab" the depth?
As mentioned, the Canadiens have been finding scoring up and down their lineup. No player has been lighting the lamp quite so frequently as Pacioretty but others have picked up the slack, with seven players having at least 20 points. The Blue Jackets haven’t been so consistent beyond the performances of All-Stars Johansen and Nick Foligno. Injuries are a factor, but aside from Scott Hartnell and Cam Atkinson, no Blue Jacket forward comes into tonight’s game with more than 10 points. Head coach Todd Richards said after practice yesterday that he wants to see more from forwards beyond his top line. The offensive spike from the blue line has been helpful in winning games, but the Jackets cannot rely solely on that. They need players like Atkinson (1-3-4 in last 20 games) and Matt Calvert (1-5-6 in the last 16) to lift their game to match the four-line attack of Montreal.