Goaltending controversy? What goaltending controversy!?!?!
And so it begins...
Despite the loss last night, Jaroslav Halak is making a convincing case for himself and his status between the pipes for the Montreal Canadiens. Halak's preseason play since the beginning of September has this city buzzing. He's clearly been the best goaltender at camp, better than the one that was groomed for the #1 position, Carey PriceThe stats don't lie: Halak's tallied a GAA of 1.56 and a save percentage of .938 (versus Price's very scary 3.23 GAA and .875 SVP... ouch).
Because of their respective performances and stats such as these, there have already been calls in the medias and amongst fellow Habs bloggers to give the other young goalie a shot at starting with the team, once they finally get on the ice to open the regular season against the Maple Leafs next Thursday.
I can certainly see the legitimicies in these opinions, but if you ask me, Halak won't and shouldn't get a shot at that job, at least not at the start of the season. Price may have had his ups and downs over the course of his young career, but in this instance, at the start of THIS season, and after a tumultuous summer that saw more than half the team change team colors, Price, just as much as anyone else, deserves a clean slate. This is as much a new start for him as it is for Kovalev in Ottawa, Komisarek in Toronto, Koivu in Anaheim, Tanguay in Tampa Bay, Chris Higgins in New York... even Steve Begin in Boston and Francis Bouillon in Nashville.
When Bob Gainey decided not to bring back any of this team's star players and leaders, despite the arrival of a lot of character players with leadership qualities, the brunt of this team's credibility fell on the shoulders of Carey Price. Last year, despite being heavily criticized amongst the public, Price was still a young player with a lot to learn, and Koivu and Kovalev were still the veteran leaders who needed to take control of the team. But now that they're gone, Carey Price is the sole face of the team. Whether any poster or ad campaigns or line-up changes might suggest tell you otherwise or not, Price is THE man in Montreal. And despite having a lot to learn and improve, the success of this team rests mostly on his shoulders, just as much this year as it will in the future.
The Habs now have a true first line in Cammaleri, Gomez and Gionta (however they might pair them up, together, or with any other forwards). They have a revilatized group of defensemen anchored by Andrei Markov, and a support cast of forwards that will work hard to get victories, not to mention the changes in coaching staff and on-ice system. The one thing that has remained a constant through all this change, is the fact that the two goaltenders between the pipes are still Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak.
And I don't think this is a coincidence or a matter of contractual circumstance. Gainey knows that this team's success rests on goaltending, and that his legacy as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens rests on Carey Price. He drafted him over a lot of good players at the criticism of many, and frankly, if Price fails as an elite goaltender (or at the very least, a clear-cut good #1 goaltender), Gainey's failed at his job.
It may sound more dramatic than it is, but that's certainly what it seems like. And despite Halak performing well at camp, Price NEEDS to start on October 1st, and he NEEDS to start most of the games in October. He needs to prove himself, and he's not going to do that sitting on the bench watching Halak.
Halak doesn't need to prove himself. We know he's good, and we know he can play well in relief of Price and even be a serviceable #1 goalie (whether it's here or somewhere else). But Price needs to prove himself. To Gainey, to the team, and certainly to the fans. Because right now, any respect that he might have garnered over the course of his pre-NHL career, well, it's dwindled away.
Success is yours for the taking, Carey, don't let us down. Grab the ball and run with it.