MONTREAL – It is decision time for Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Martin ? should he start Jaroslav Halak or Carey Price in goal against the Washington Capitals?
The debate is raging on the radio call-in shows, Internet sites and no doubt on shop floors and around office water coolers all over the city.
But as usual, Martin refuses to name his starting goalie until the day of the game, in this case, the perhaps pivotal Game 4 of the team’s NHL Eastern Conference series at the Bell Centre on Wednesday night. The Capitals lead the best-of-seven series 2-1.
“I’m confident we have two goaltenders who can do the job so, for me, it’s not a big decision,” he said Tuesday.
Halak took over the No. 1 goaltender’s role in the final two months of the regular season and looked to have erased any doubts about his status with a 45-save effort in Montreal’s series opening 3-2 overtime win in Washington.
He looked good again as the Canadiens jumped to a 4-1 lead late in the second period of Game 2, but then the roof fell in as the Capitals battled back for a 6-5 overtime win.
Back on home ice for Game 3 on Monday night, the Canadiens dominated a scoreless first period, but came unglued when Washington scored shorthanded 1:06 into the second when defenceman Jaroslav Spacek backed into Halak and Boyd Gordon scored.
Two of the next five shots went in and Halak was pulled in favour of Price, who let in two on 23 shots in a 5-1 Capitals victory. From the end of the second frame in Washington to the 8:33 mark of the second period in Game 3, Halak let in eight goals on 30 shots.
“In Game 2, they scored three goals in the third period but it wasn’t like I gave up three bad goals,” said Halak. “These type of things happen.
“Even in Game 3, there’s not really a lot I could have done about those goals. The first one I got pushed into the net, the second one I never saw coming and the third one was a rebound. But it’s only Game 3 and it could still be a long series.”
Asked if he felt he deserved another start, Halak said: “It’s not up to me. This is out of my reach. Whoever plays, plays. We need to win and if I don’t play, I understand.”
Price had not played since a 2-1 loss to Carolina on March 31, when he was booed by the Bell Centre crowd while being named one of the game’s three stars for his 33-save effort.
He was given a rousing cheer when he went in to replace Halak.
“It was good to get in there and start feeling some pucks and have some pressure, even if it’s just handling some pucks,” said Price.
The six-foot-three Price has a clear size advantage over the five-foot-11 Halak and feels that may be important against a big Washington team that likes to crowd the net.
“I’m a pretty big boy. I can handle myself and that could be an advantage for us,” he said. “If they’re still coming to the net and we don’t retaliate, we could draw penalties.”
Halak supporters say the 24-year-old from Bratislava should start because he is the goaltender that got Montreal into the playoffs and he shouldn’t be punished for a bad stretch against Washington’s high-powered attack.
His detractors say he appears to be rattled, although he laughed at a reference to Caps star Alex Ovechkin’s statement that his arm was shaking after he let in the goal in Game 2 that started Washington’s comeback.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Halak said. “I don’t know how he got that, that I was nervous.”
Price supporters point not only to his size, but to the talent that made him a fifth overall draft pick in 2005 and to his big game experience in leading Canada to gold at the world junior championship and the Hamilton Bulldogs to the 2007 American Hockey League title, which was against Washington’s farm club in Hershey who were coached by current Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau.
Detractors point to his losing record this season. And some say playing Price would be a sign of panic.
Hanging over the decision is that both goalies will be restricted free agents this summer. It may be tough to keep them happy if they sign both and make them share the net for another season, so the Canadiens may trade one in the off-season.
So do they sit out whichever one they want to keep for such a crucial game?
That’s been the talk outside the Canadiens locker-room, but inside, left-winger Mike Cammalleri insists it is the farthest thing from their teammates’ minds.
“The funny thing is, you (reporters) ask us these questions and literally, they haven’t been brought up,” he said after a quick practice at the Bell Centre. “I got here three hours ago and I’ve probably had 40 conversations with people on this team and haven’t had one bring that up.
“And it’s a raging debate. It’s very much a non-issue for us. We know that whoever plays will be right where we need him. They could both play half a game and I’m good with that.”
Cammalleri said it often happens that what catches the interest of the fans and media is no big deal for players. He had a funny story on that topic.
“I had the most interesting fan experience I’ve ever had two days ago in Montreal,” he said. “A fan came up to me in the street and said ‘Can you guys stop looking at the camera?’ I said what? He said ‘You guys are always looking at the camera. Look at the ice.’ I said ‘Man, we don’t even know where the cameras are. There’s about 20 of them. That’s their job to get on our faces. Trust me, I’m not looking at the thing. What do you think, I’m backchecking on Ovechkin and I’ve got time to think where’s the camera?’ You get all kinds.”