Goaltending controv--- oh, wait, there's a game tonight?
Tonight, the Canadiens welcome the Calgary Flames to the Bell Centre for the second of only two games between the two teams this season. In the third game of the season for the Canadiens, they visited the Flames in Calgary in the first game of a Western Conference road trip, and fell 4-3 with Jaroslav Halak getting his first start of the season.
Tonight, no one is really certain who's going to be starting for the Canadiens between the pipes. Price was brilliant last Thursday in Boston, essentially stealing the game in a 2-1 shootout victory over the Bruins. And while he can't be faulted for the team in front of him only getting one goal on Saturday night, at least one of his goals against in the 3-1 loss to the Lightning could be argued as being a weak goal.
And we all know, once Price gives up a weak goal, he's done for and every bad thing that ever happened in the universe becomes his fault.
If coach Jacques Martin wants to go with the hot hand tonight, he'd go with Jaroslav Halak. But after suffering from the flu last week and, allegedly, a groin injury this week, it's anyone's guess who's going to start for the Habs tonight at the Bell Centre.
15 GAMES LATER...
It's interesting how things have changed since the the Canadiens took the ice in the Saddledome in early October.
At that point, Price was clearly the number one goalie, backstopping the Canadiens to two straight overtime road victories against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres.
Over one month ago, the Leafs were slated to be a much better team than the one that missed the playoffs in the spring of 2009. Many were predicting playoff berths for the Toronto team, and while they lost that first game of the season against the Habs, they certainly didn't look bad, beyond, of course, Vesa Toskala. As for the Sabres, everyone knows that Sabres-Canadiens games are always close and exciting end-to-end hockey, but the Sabres were being overlooked in most people's predictions, and while they gave the Canadiens a fight, once again, Carey Price stole the show.
The Canadiens themselves looked almost exactly how people had predicted. A small team who would have troubles on the road since they didn't get the last change and therefore the match-ups that would have benefited their diminutive forwards and slow defensemen. Strong goaltending would be the key to their road victories, and that was certainly the case.
Most thought that Price would continue his winning ways in Calgary, but, oddly, the coach decided to give Jaro Halak his first start of the season. Halak played alright at best in the loss, but Martin justified his choice by the fact that they were playing in Vancouver the next night and he wanted to start Price in his home town, finally giving him a chance to play in front of his family.
Whether that's a worthy reason to bench a 22 year old goalie riding a hot streak very early in the season and after two days rest is a debatable matter. Regardless of the merits of his choices, Price started in Vancouver the next night, and just like he was embarrassed last season by Bell Centre fans taunting him, he was embarrassed yet again, in front of his family, as the Canadiens defense collapsed without Andrei Markov as their quarterback, and the result was a 7-1 rout in favor of the Canucks.
Carey Price got burned. Jacques Martin got burned for making poor goaltending decisions, and since then, Martin has decided to go with the hot hand in nets. Unfortunately for Price, the damage had been done, his confidence shot, and Halak took over for five straight games, posting a nice win streak despite facing lower quality teams, for the most part.
So, here we are, 15 games later, against the same team that started this downward spiral of Habs fans hating on Habs fans and player agents dissing their clients' goaltending companion, and Jacques Martin is faced with another tough decision.
Who does he start tonight? Carey Price, who, as mentioned, didn't have his best game Saturday night, but at the same time couldn't be blamed for the loss? Does Martin ride his strong performance from Thursday night? Or does he go with ailing Jaro Halak, who's agent stirred up a grand controversy late Saturday night? (and it doesn't help that David Ettedgui, part of Sports Corporation, the firm that represents Carey Price, sounded off on the matter to La Presse's Marc-Antoine Godin...)
We'll find out later today.
YET ANOTHER CONTROVERSY
Ok, one more for the road...
Another controversy seemed to have been stirred up since last week, and I'll only touch briefly upon it, however it seems like people are upset at how Guillaume Latendresse and Maxim Lapierre are being treated. It seems like if Martin even takes but a shift away from the duo, people start crying foul because they are the two Quebecers on this team.
Martin took a lot of shifts away from the two on Saturday after they were on the ice for the third Lightning goal. The two didn't see any more ice time in the game.
Conveniently, people forget that Tom Pyatt was also benched along with those two. And it was only last week that Andrei Kostitsyn rode pine for a large portion of the game, not to mention Glen Metropolit and Travis Moen in another game when they weren't being useful.
So let's not get up in arms over nothing, because it isn't the first time a player's been benched, and it won't be the last time. It has nothing to do with the origin of their names or the language they speak, and everything to do with the effort (or lack thereof) they put out on the ice.
A FORGOTTEN OPPONENT?
Maybe the saddest thing about all these controversies is that it seems like the fans have forgotten that there's a game tonight (as indicated in the title...). Instead of rejoicing in the fact that a potential classic match-up is in store for the fans tonight, this city is mired in goaltending controversies, in language controversies, and all these other petty issues. The fact remains that there's a game tonight, and the team would need to push all these other issues aside if they want to win against a very good team.
The Flames are winners of 3 in a row, and while they're 5 points behind the surprising Colorado Avalanche (21 points for the Flames), they have three games in hand (15) and have only scored 4 less goals with 52. They do, however, have the same amounts of goals agains with 43, and while Mikka Kiprusoff has been good, he could be better with a .912 save percentage and a 2.68 GAA. However, with a 9-3-1 record, you can't complain.
Surprisingly leading the Flames in scoring is Rene Bourque, who has 6 goals and 11 assists for 17 points. Jarome Iginla, while off to a slow start, is gaining behind him with 8 goals and 6 assists. Dion Phaneuf leads all defensemen on the flames with 6 goals and 4 assists, but has slowed down as of late.
Flames players off to disappointing starts are Olli Jokinen, who seems to be living up to his reputation as an underperforming center, with only 8 points in 15 games. I couldn't tell you how Jay Bouwmeester has been defensively aside from the few games I've seen him in, but he's only produced 7 points, which, despite being on a much better offensive team, puts him on pace for one of his worst statistical seasons ever. He is, however, a plus player.
The above might be nitpicking, however, as the Flames are a solid, deep team where everyone contributes. They're a shoe-in to make the playoffs and may surprise a few teams when they get there, and I'm not afraid to say that even only 15 games into the season.
The Canadiens will have their hands full tonight, and all these so-called controversies aren't going to help them.
Look for Jacques Martin to split up the ''Little 3'' to try and bolster the secondary offense. Mike Cammalleri will probably start the game with Tomas Plekanec, although there is no word on who will sit out the game or how the line-up will be completed.
Jay Leach is a strong bet to make his debut for the habs in place of M-A Bergeron, who has been porous defensively.
I'll update later with line-up news.
FINAL PREDICTION: Flames 5 - Habs 4