BROSSARD, Que. – It seems that goaltender Jaroslav Halak is a little too hot.
The Slovak goaltender who is riding a four-game winning streak as well as being named Montreal’s player of the month for February did not make a trip to Buffalo on Tuesday with the Canadiens because he has a flu and fever.
Carey Price, who has been ice cold of late, is to start in goal when the Canadiens begin a three-game road trip against the Sabres on Wednesday night.
“Carey has had two really good practices this week and he’s healthy,” said coach Guy Carbonneau.
Goalie Marc Denis is likely to be called up Wednesday from AHL Hamilton to back up Price.
Halak, who is expected to join the team for a game Friday night in Atlanta, has been in goal throughout the Canadiens’ four-game winning run, allowing only eight goals and posting a smart .952 save percentage as his team allowed an average of 41.7 shots on goal.
Price, usually the Canadiens starter, has lost five in a row, allowing 24 goals in that span.
But goaltending is one position general manager Bob Gainey said recently he would not be looking to bolster at the NHL trading deadline Wednesday at 3 p.m ET.
His stated goals were to add depth at defence and centre, which he did in deals for veteran Mathieu Schneider, who has transformed the power play, and Doug Janik, who was assigned to Hamilton, as well as claiming centre Glen Metropolit off waivers from Philadelphia.
But there are reports that Gainey is still scouring the trade market and may try to land a bigger fish before the deadline.
The Canadiens winning run followed a 15-game stretch in which they won only three times, including a couple of pastings during a western road swing.
Even while winning, they have been outplayed for the most part. But Halak had a 34-save shutout against Vancouver, they edged the Flyers in Philadelphia and then held off powerful San Jose 3-2 in their last game on Saturday.
They will also get a boost when winger Alex Tanguay returns, likely on Friday, after missing two months with a shoulder injury. Left winger Guillaume Latendresse is a week to 10 days away from returning as well, although centre Robert Lang is gone at least for rest of the regular season with a severed achilles tendon.
Carbonneau admitted it is every coaches’ dream to land a star player at the trade deadline, but he is confident the team can win without further additions.
“I know a lot of people look at how we’re playing now, but the playoffs is different – anything can happen,” he said. “You stay healthy, a goalie gets hot, a guy starts to see the net is really big and he can score every game.
“We’re proven in the past that we can beat good teams. Maybe not the way some people would like us to win games, but we’ve shown that we can beat those teams. So yes, I do feel comfortable with the guys that I have.”
Acquiring Schneider for a pair of draft picks so far looks to be an inspired move.
In six games since, the formerly dormant power play is 11-for-25 and has climbed from the low 20s to 18th in the 30-team league with an 18.5 per cent success rate. Schneider has three goals and three assists in that span.
Montreal has been looking all season for a replacement on the right point for Mark Streit, who left last summer as a free agent, and seem to have found it. But Carbonneau also likes what his former teammate on the Canadiens 1993 Stanley Cup team brings to the defence.
“He doesn’t have Sheldon Souray’s shot, but he has good vision, and where he’s really good is between our net and the (far) blue-line, bringing the puck up the ice, finding the options to get the puck in so we can spend time in the offensive zone,” said Carbonneau. “He’s helped (defence partner) Andrei Markov and our team to be better.”
Schneider said there is no secret to what he brings to the power play – shooting often, and getting shots through the defence and to the net.
“There are so many guys now that are just great shot blockers,” said Schneider. “My goal 90 per cent of the time is to just get the puck past that first guy.
“I know the guys rib me about shooting high, but it’s a lot harder to block a shot when it’s up around your chest than when it’s down around your shins.”
Metropolit does not have a point in two games with Montreal, but he has been strong enough as a fourth-line checker that young centre Kyle Chipchura was returned to Hamilton on Tuesday.
The next task is to get first-line left winger Andrei Kostitsyn going.
Kostitsyn had a four-game goal-scoring run stopped on Feb. 19, just when the Canadiens began their winning streak, although his linemate Tomas Plakanec and Alex Kovalev have been filling the net.
There has been speculation that Kostitsyn is bothered by reports that surfaced Feb. 20 that he and his brother Sergei, and to a lesser extent defenceman Roman Hamrlik, had hung around with a suspected drug dealer and gang member, although none of the players are suspected of any crimes.
He hasn’t scored since. Then again, he also went flat when Kovalev returned after he was sent home for two games by Gainey to get his mind and his game together. In the two games Kovalev missed, Kostitsyn stepped up with two goals and three assists.
They were also the first two games after Sergei Kostitsyn was sent down to Hamilton for indifferent play.
“He’s a professional and we know he’ll overcome it,” said Carbonneau of the team scoring leader with 22 goals. “Right now, two thirds of the line is playing really well, while at the start of the year, we had a tough time finding one.
“I know he’ll find it again. He has too much talent. He can play better, but he’s not the only one.”
The other struggling player most often mentioned is defenceman Mike Komisarek, who was split from the top pair with Markov and now skates with Josh Gorges.
” You wonder at this time of the year why that would happen – when you hit March, your game should be going up, not down,” Carbonneau added. “But everyone has bruises.
“We’re starting to pick up the pieces here and there. If we can keep winning regularly, I think everyone will come back and play with more confidence and that includes Mike Komisarek.”
Captain Saku Koivu missed practice with an undisclosed minor injury but is to play in Buffalo.