BLUE JACKETS (2-3-0) @ CANADIENS (4-2-0)
Almost two weeks after playing in front of their hometown fans, the Canadiens return to the Bell Centre on Thursday night, taking on the Columbus Blue Jackets to mark the occasion.
Returning from a productive West Coast trip, where the team earned six points out of a possible eight, the Habs stretched its current winning streak to three by shutting out the Winnipeg Jets 3-0 on Tuesday night. Carey Price was infallible in nets against the Manitobans, stopping all 36 shots against to earn his first shutout of the 2013-14, the 20th of his career. Brandon Prust, P.K. Subban and Daniel Briere provided the goal support in the win.
Thursday’s game will mark the first occasion where the Canadiens and the Blue Jackets face off as conference rivals, as Columbus was shifted into East following the off-season league realignment. The matchup will be the seventh at the Bell Centre, with the home team holding a 2-2-1-2 record against the Ohio-based franchise since its inception in 2000-01. The Habs will be looking to reverse a trend which saw the team lose in its last two outings against the Blue Jackets, including a 3-2 shootout loss last time out (December 6, 2011).
In his first full season in Columbus, head coach Todd Richards has to compose with an inexperienced player staff – 12 of his charges are aged 25 or younger. Having experienced a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Red Wings in Detroit in the Blue Jackets’ last game, Richards will attempt to guide his team to victory, thereby snapping a two-game losing steak.
Marian Gaborik, acquired from the New York Rangers last season, paces the Blue Jackets offence with two goals and six points in five games. He will be counted on to be the difference-maker for Columbus, as free agent signing Nathan Horton is still recuperating from off-season shoulder surgery and will be out of action until December or January.
One question mark on the Habs’ side is the health of winger Max Pacioretty. The power forward left Tuesday’s game in the first period after suffering a painful lower-body injury. In 2013-14, Pacioretty has two goals and one assist in five games.
Coach Michel Therrien is likely to send his number one netminder Carey Price into the fray on Thursday night. Having conceded only one goal on the last 76 shots faced against the Canucks and the Jets, the 26 year-old goaltender now boasts a goals against average of 1.81 and a save percentage of 94.4%. On the other end, in nets will be Sergei Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trohpy winner. The Russian has played all five of Columbus’ games so far and is 2-3.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 EST.