MONTREAL – Rookie goaltender Carey Price is getting used to being placed in high pressure situations.
The 20-year-old be in another one on Tuesday when, with veteran Cristobal Huet out because of a pulled groin, he’ll face 42-year-old goaltending legend Dominik Hasek and the high-flying Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre.
“It’s another guy that I’ve been watching ever since I was little,” Price said Monday in his usual deadpan. “I know he’s still a very good goalie and I’ll have to play well.”
Huet felt a twinge in his groin while stopping a first-period breakaway on Saturday night. He stayed in the game and allowed four third-period goals as the Nashville Predators erased a pair of three-goal Montreal leads for a 5-4 shootout win.
Now, he’s listed as day-to-day, but doesn’t expect to be out of action for more than a game or two.
“It’s nothing that will keep me out for a long period,” said Huet. “My groin is a little sore.
“After the game when my body cooled off I felt it a bit, so we decided not to take any chances. So I’ll stay off the ice (Monday and Tuesday).”
The Canadiens recalled Jaroslav Halak from AHL Hamilton to serve as backup to Price, and moved Cedrick Desjardins from Cincinnati of the ECHL to Hamilton.
Halak shone at times in 16 games for Montreal last season, but isn’t slated to play during this call-up. Coach Guy Carbonneau said Price would start “as many games as Cristobal is out.”
Price was battling a cold on the weekend, but says he is fully recovered. Now he’ll have to carry the load until Huet comes back.
“I don’t think it’ll be very long at all – probably one game,” said Price, who is 6-3-1 in 10 starts with a 2.84 goals-against average and a respectable .912 save percentage. “I don’t think I have to carry the team.
“I just have to play well. Everybody’s just got to play better and I think we have that in our room.”
The Canadiens have not pampered the player they see as their goaltender of the future, throwing him in twice against high-scoring Pittsburgh and once against powerful Ottawa in his first three NHL starts.
After starring for Tri-City in the WHL, Price backstopped Canada to a gold medal at the world junior championship last winter, then joined Hamilton at the end of the season and led the Bulldogs to the Calder Cup.
It will be a second face-to-face meeting in a row with one of the NHL’s big-name goalies for Price, although his last was forgettable as Montreal was shut out 4-0 by Martin Brodeur and the Devils in New Jersey on Friday night.
Hasek goes into this encounter looking to shake off some rust and get back on track after a slow start that has him at 5-5-1 with a 2.90 average and a weak 8.64 save percentage.
The Czech veteran has backed up Chris Osgood (13-1-1) in Detroit’s last four games and in six of the last seven.
“I don’t want to get used to it,” Hasek told the Detroit News this week. “It’s been a little boring for sure.”
The first-place overall Wings have won three games in a row, while Montreal has won only one of its last five.
Carbonneau juggled all four of his lines for the Nashville game and the tinkering looks like it will continue.
And winger Michael Ryder, a 30-goal scorer the last two seasons who has only three this season, looks like he may be the next to sit out a game.
In practice Monday, there were four players on the so-called third line – Kyle Chipchura, Guillaume Latendresse, Tom Kostopoulos and Ryder. Kostopoulos was a surprise scratch for the last game and is expected to return.
Carbonneau would not tip his hand on who would sit out.
“Michael Ryder proved in the last two years that he’s a 30-goal scorer,” the second-year head coach said. “What’s happening this year, I don’t know, but when he gets going, we’ll be a better team.
“I like his attitude. There are things he’s doing this year he didn’t do last year. He doesn’t turn over the puck, he’s playing better on the boards, but he’s not scoring. I wish he could do both.”
Ryder, who hasn’t scored in eight games and who has one goal in his last 16, is starting to feel the heat.
“I know they want me to score,” said the native of Bonavista, N.L. “Right now I’m not doing that and the team’s losing.
“It wasn’t as bad when the team was winning and you’re not scoring. When you’re losing, the pressure gets on you more.”
Other line changes saw Andrei Kostitsyn reunited with linemates Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec, while Chris Higgins was moved back with captain Saku Koivu, although defenceman Mark Streit remains on Koivu’s left wing.
Streit played well for most of last season on the wing, but was moved back to defence to start this season.
Bryan Smolinski was back on a checking line with Mathieu Dandenault and Steve Begin, who was a healthy scratch on Saturday.
Halak was shocked to see his place in the Canadiens heirarchy taken by Price and has not been at top form this season, going 4-4-2 with a 2.66 average and .910 save percentage in Hamilton.
But the 22-year-old will likely be Price’s backup next season, if not before, as Huet can be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
“It was a bit hard to get over it, but I did and now hopefully I can start playing like I did last year,” Halak said. “The motivation is always there because I wanted to get back (to the NHL). I’m back now, but we’ll see for how long.”
Halak turned down an offer from a Russian league club last summer to continue playing in North America.