|Winning streak has to give as Canadiens visit Blue Jackets|
Two winning streaks will be on the line when the Montreal Canadiens visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.
Columbus has won its past four games as part of an 11-3-0 stretch that has taken the Blue Jackets into a first-place tie with the Washington Capitals atop the Metropolitan Division.
The Canadiens, meanwhile, have won three in a row and are 9-4-0 over their last 13 games.
Friday's matchup is the first of two consecutive games for both clubs. The Blue Jackets (28-15-3) will visit the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, while the Canadiens (26-17-5) will travel home to host the Philadelphia Flyers.
Both teams are likely to alternate goalies over the back-to-back games, leaving some question over who will start Friday. Adding to the uncertainty is that the Canadiens and Blue Jackets have enjoyed outstanding play from their backup goalies in recent days.
Antti Niemi has won each of his past three starts, including a spectacular 52-save performance in Montreal's 5-1 over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. After posting only a .870 save percentage over his first 10 games of the season, Niemi's recent turnaround has made it easier for head coach Claude Julien in deciding when to rest starter Carey Price.
"I think we're starting to see more and more around the league how it's important to have a second goaltender that can come in and play X number of games, so that your No. 1 goaltender doesn't have to play the 70 games that we've seen in the past or the 60-something," Julien said.
"So it's about managing that, and I think (Niemi has) given us that opportunity right now."
While Price has Montreal's starting job locked down, the goaltending situation in Columbus isn't nearly as clear. Joonas Korpisalo has won each of his past four starts, with a .957 save percentage and 1.32 goals against average over his last five outings.
Korpisalo's breakout has come amid a slump for Sergei Bobrovsky, as well as an off-the-ice disciplinary issue that saw Bobrovsky miss two games. Bobrovsky is an unrestricted free agent after the season, and there have been rumors that the Blue Jackets could consider moving the goalie before the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
Columbus coach John Tortorella stressed that Korpisalo "earned the time just through his play," not due to the questions surrounding Bobrovsky.
"We did talk about that at the beginning of the year, that I have to have a little bit different look or different thinking of our goaltending because we don't know what the hell (Bobrovsky) is going to do," Tortorella said.
"I still go with that. ... We'll see where we go with the next game."
Friday is the first of three meetings between the Canadiens and Blue Jackets this season. Montreal is winless in its past four games in Columbus.
Canadiens forward Paul Byron won't play after being issued a three-game suspension for a charging call on Florida's MacKenzie Weegar on Tuesday.
The Blue Jackets' top line of Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin has combined for 18 points in the past four games. Panarin in particular has been rolling, with nine goals and nine assists in his last 12 games.
--Field Level Media