Among the various controversies – some real, some perceived – surrounding the Montreal Canadiens this season was the direction they would take with their goaltending this season and in years to come.
It wasn’t much of an issue back in October because the widely-held assumption was that Carey Price, the 22-year-old who made a mercurial rise to the NHL after Montreal drafted him fifth overall in 2005 would be the standard bearer for the next decade or so. But the Canadiens had another pretty decent goalie as well in Jaroslav Halak a 24-year-old Slovak they took with one of the last picks in 2003, and by mid-season it was pretty clear he had earned the right to be No. 1.
Halak said as much through his agent, prompting speculation that he would or at least wanted to be traded.
That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons and likely played a role in Bob Gainey’s unexpected resignation as general manager in mid-season. Then again there was really no urgency to do anything because both goalies were still on their entry level contracts and modestly paid. Thing is they are each restricted free agents after the season, and both are going to be due nice raises, so the organization presumably has to make a decision about which one to keep.
And if the gutsy 2-1 win Montreal picked up in Washington on Friday is any indication, it already has.
The Canadiens narrowed the quarterfinals series gap with the Capitals to 3-2 with the victory strictly because of Halak, who was their go-to guy down the stretch as they managed to sneak into the final playoff seed. That made it a no-brainer for the team to start him in the series against Washington, and Halak responded with strong efforts until he was pulled after being lit up in the third game.
Montreal turned to Price for the fourth game, giving him what was ostensibly a chance to regain the upper hand in the competition for the future. Price played relatively well too, but Washington still ended up winning. So with their season on the line, the Canadiens had to decide which netminder gave them the best chance and felt more comfortable going with Halak.
Good thing too. No doubt the Canadiens were helped by a Washington team that seemed to think the game began in the second period rather than the first. Montreal was in desperation mode, as teams with their back to the wall should be (are you listening New Jersey), and scored twice before the game was eight minutes old.
But gradually Washington's high-powered offense began picking up the pace, only to stymied time and again by the sterling work of Halak. He made several spectacular saves off the 37 shots he faced, with 22 of them coming over the final two periods when the Capitals finally got their legs moving and began generating dangerous chances.
And it should have erased any doubt about who is Montreal's goalie of the present, and who should be for the future.
Seeing the future
Posted on: April 23, 2010 10:50 pm