The Blue Jackets are on a four-game win streak and have two more points than Montreal, but they lead the Metropolitan Division.
Canadiens at Columbus Blue Jackets: Five things you should know – Montreal Gazette
Here are five things you should know about the Canadiens-Blue Jackets game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Friday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).
The matchup: This is the first of three meetings between these teams and both are bringing winning streaks to the fray. The Canadiens are coming off a 5-1 win over Florida on Tuesday to run their winning streak to three games. Montreal has been in and out of a wild-card spot for the past month, but they are suddenly only three points back of second-place Toronto and two points back of third-place Boston. The Blue Jackets have a four-game win streak and are 7-3-0 in their last 10. They have only two more points than Montreal, but they lead the Metropolitan Division.
Life without Bryon: The Canadiens will be without Paul Byron who has been suspended for three games for his hit on Florida’s MacKenzie Weegar, who suffered a concussion. Given Byron’s squeaky clean record, the ban seems at least one game too long but, with the all-star break and the Canadiens’ bye week coming, he won’t play again until Super Bowl weekend. The suspension opens an opportunity for Charles Hudon, who practised Thursday on a line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia. Hudon has been limited to 24 games this season and has three goals, one assist and a minus-8 rating.
Kotkaniemi fulfilling promise: Claude Julien said the second half of the season would present new challenges for Kotkaniemi and the Finnish rookie continues to show that the Canadiens made the right decision by keeping him in the NHL. Kotkaniemi has scored goals in two of the last three games. He unveiled a slap shot to score against Colorado and then produced a highlight-reel toe drag to score against Florida. Faceoffs were a concern early in the season, but Kotkaniemi won seven of his 10 draws against Florida and his success rate is up to a respectable 46.9 per cent.
Goaltender battle: This game will feature two former Vézina Trophy winners — Carey Price and the Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky. Price has been at his best in the new year and has two shutouts. He has an 18-13-4 record and has lowered his goals-against average to 2.65 with a .912 save percentage. It’s been a different story for the guy they call Bob, who is in the final year of his contract. He has a 19-13-1 record with a 2.94 GAA and a .903 SP and he has been the subject of trade rumours.
The other guys: Artemi Panarin leads the Blue Jackets in scoring with 18 goals and 52 points, while Cam Atkinson is the team’s top goal-scorer with 27. Pierre-Luc Dubois has 17 goals followed by Josh Anderson with 15, Nick Foligno with 12 and Anthony Duclair with 10. Columbus is ninth in offence with an average of 3.30 goals a game and they needed that scoring because their defence ranks 20th (3.02) in goals allowed.