January 13, 2015

The Montreal Canadiens became the third team in NHL history to open with nine straight wins at the same time the Columbus Blue Jackets were trudging through the league's worst start in 72 years.

Although a large gap still exists between them in the Eastern Conference, they're now in the same unwanted position - out of a playoff spot.

Montreal hopes ending a five-game skid can give it a boost entering Monday night's opener of a home-and-home set against the Blue Jackets, who are still unsure if coach John Tortorella is healthy enough to return to the bench.

The Canadiens (24-20-4) have gone from the class of the league to fifth in the Atlantic Division, nine points back of first-place Florida. Certainly the dropoff has something to do with the loss of goalie Carey Price, who had a 2.06 goals-against average while winning 10 of 12 starts when he suffered a lower-body injury Nov. 25.

Price is expected to miss at least another three weeks, which is more bad news for a Montreal team that is 5-16-1 since Dec. 3.

The Canadiens snapped an 0-4-1 stretch by beating Toronto 3-2 in a shootout Saturday, but they blew a two-goal lead and are still three points behind New Jersey for the East's final wild-card spot.

"I think it's important just to build off that and know we have to be a little bit better," forward Max Pacioretty said. "You take the two points and you don't talk about what happened in the past. You just look ahead."

The Blue Jackets (17-27-5) haven't recovered from a 0-8-0 start and sit at the bottom of the NHL despite hiring Tortorella on Oct. 21 after the first seven defeats.

Even Tortorella has been bitten by the injury bug, suffering two broken ribs in a practice collision with winger Rene Bourque on Friday and being forced to sit out Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss at Boston. Assistant Craig Hartsburg was the acting head coach as Columbus dropped its third straight.

"We're just trying to hold the fort until he's back and do the best we can here, and the players played hard," Hartsburg said.

Joonas Korpisalo made 32 saves in place of Sergei Bobrovsky, who was put on injured reserve for the third time after tweaking his groin in Thursday's loss to Calgary. Forward David Savard also was placed on IR retroactive to Jan. 13 because of an oblique strain that will keep him out at least four weeks.

Captain Nick Foligno returned after missing the previous six with an upper-body injury but didn't record a point. Dalton Prout and Kerby Rychel tied the game in the second after the Blue Jackets allowed the first two goals earlier in the period.

Columbus came up empty on four power-play chances, including one in overtime.

"You're happy to come away with a point but, man, I just thought that game was ours for the taking," Foligno said. "All facets of our game, minus our power play, were outstanding and that's disappointing, because that's how you win games.

"Sometimes you've got to rely on your power play and it's a privilege to be on it, and we just didn't get the job done."

Foligno scored in the opening period against the Canadiens in the first matchup Dec. 1, but Pacioretty's power-play goal with 2:09 left in the game gave Montreal a 2-1 win.

Mike Condon made 22 saves in that contest, but it's unclear if he'll be in net as the Canadiens try to win a fifth straight meeting.

Montreal hosts the Blue Jackets to conclude the set Tuesday night.

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