Not much has gone right for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season.
Languishing among the basement-dwellers in the NHL standings for nearly the entire season, the Blue Jackets have a chance for their first three-game winning streak when they visit the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
Columbus (23-41-7, 53 points) is coming off a 5-4 overtime win against the visiting New York Islanders on Friday, the Blue Jackets’ second straight victory immediately following a 1-6-1 stretch. It’s just the fifth time in 2022-23 that the club has won consecutive games.
“These last two games, you’re playing at the end of a five-game road trip, flying halfway across the country again and we had some guys dealing with some illnesses and different things, and they found a way to respond,” coach Brad Larsen said.
Columbus forward Kent Johnson has impressed in his rookie season, and he continued to do so with a lacrosse-style goal against the Islanders. He has four points in his past four games and 15 goals and 22 assists in 68 games this season.
“He’s got a bright future because it’s not just all skill,” Larsen said. “He’s always working at his game. He’s got a real hunger to learn and be better. He likes to be challenged, he does. We’ve had some conversations and he’s challenged himself to be better.”
A season-long injury-plagued Columbus roster took two more hits in the game against the Islanders.
Defenseman Erik Gudbranson left the game after the second period with an upper-body injury, and forward Mathieu Olivier exited early in the first period with a lower-body injury. Neither traveled with the team to Montreal, and Larsen said Gudbranson’s ailment could be “more long term.”
It’s been an equally miserable season for the Canadiens (28-38-6, 62 points), who head into Saturday’s tilt 28th in the NHL standings. Montreal has won just twice in its past 12 games, going 2-8-2 in a stretch that included a seven-game losing streak (0-5-2).
The latest setback was a 4-2 road loss to the league-leading Boston Bruins on Thursday. Despite the defeat, Montreal coach Martin St. Louis liked what he saw from his squad.
“We’re there mentally, we’re engaged, we’re connected. That’s how you grow as a team,” he said after the game. “All the good teams are like that. That’s what we’re looking for, that’s what we’re trying to work on and build here, and bring consistency. It’s encouraging. I’m proud of the group.”
Canadiens forward Kirby Dach has picked up where he left off after missing more than a month with an injury. The 22-year-old has two goals and an assist in two games since returning and nine points (six goals, three assists) in his past nine games.
“He’s a special player and we’re lucky to have him,” Montreal defenseman Mike Matheson said. “To see that every game, we’re really happy to have him on our team.”
The Blue Jackets and Canadiens have allowed the second- and fourth-most goals against, respectively, in the NHL this season. Columbus has allowed 276 while Montreal has given up 266.
The teams split their first two meetings this season but haven’t faced each other since Nov. 23.