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Huet to start home opener for Canadiens, despite Aebischer's hot hand

From his play last season, when he led Montreal to a playoff spot with a spectacular second half, that shouldn't be a surprise.

But it is last year's back-up David Aebischer who has been hot of late and who won the team's last two games on the road after Huet faltered in a season-opening 5-4 shootout loss in Buffalo last week.

"It's been in my mind since before the start of the season that Cristobal would start the season opener and the home opener," coach Guy Carbonneau said Friday.

"After what he did for us last year, he deserves it."

The Canadiens (2-0-1) play host to the Ottawa Senators (1-3-0), a team whose sputtering attack has scored only seven goals in four games and whose power play so far is one-for-25, 29th out of 30 NHL teams.

"I think they'll try to crash the net," Huet said. "They're going to be desperate on offence and we have to be aware of that."

The Senators also have issues in goal, as Ray Emery will start a second consecutive game after former Carolina Hurricane Martin Gerber struggled in two of his first three matches.

Carbonneau said he has no preference between defining a No. 1 goalie and a back-up or sharing the work between two equals.

"For the next couple of weeks, we'll go game by game," he said. "We'll see who's hot."

So far, it has been Aebischer, the 28-year-old from Switzerland who was the starter in Colorado before he was acquired in a trade for goalie Jose Theodore on March 8.

Aebischer has allowed only three goals in two games and his 1.44 goals-against average and .954 save percentage both rank third in the league.

But Carbonneau has not forgotten last season, when Huet posted seven shutouts in only 36 games, led the league with a .929 save percentage and prompted the Theodore trade.

So when the Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 welcomes the Canadiens back, it will be Huet introduced as the starting goaltender.

"It's always an exciting game," said Huet, 31. "It's important for a player to have a good start at home and for the fans to get into the new season. It's fun."

Huet's big second half in 2005-06 earned him a US$5.75-million, two-year contact this summer, even though he remains unproven over time. He had played only 53 games in the previous three seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, posting average numbers.

Neither Huet nor Aebischer sparkled in training camp and after Huet's shaky regular season start, the goaltending debate began.

"Abby played well the last two games, so it's very understandable," Huet said. "I always want to be in the net.

"It's not fun to be on the bench, so I work hard to get back in the net."

It is a friendly competition for playing time between two goalies who wish each other well, but Aebischer has demonstrated he is not ready to accept full-time back-up status.

"It's a different situation now than it was a couple of months ago," Aebischer said. "I always knew what I can do and I think I can contribute a lot.

"I'm pretty competitive and I know what I want. It's simple - to play and play well and contribute to the team's success. Maybe I couldn't do that as much as I wanted to last year."

Aebischer inherited the starting job in Colorado after goaltending great Patrick Roy retired and had his best season in the pre-lockout year, 2003-04, when he went 32-19-9 in 62 games with a 2.09 goals-against average.

He showed little of that form when he joined the Canadiens last season, going 4-3-0 with a 3.73 average in seven games.

But the butterfly-style 'keeper looks sharper and more confident this season.

"I feel good," he said. "I'm seeing the puck well and moving well.

"I'm just enjoying the time I have on the ice. It's two games. I'm satisfied with my performances but I have to keep doing the same things, (whether it's) 40, 50 or 60 games, it doesn't matter."

The Canadiens play host to Calgary on Tuesday and travel to Chicago on Wednesday - two games the goalies will likely split. But it will be interesting to see who is in goal on Saturday, Oct. 21, when Theodore and the Avalanche are the visitors.

"We're both proven we can play in this league and each of us wants to play," Aebischer said. "It'll be a coach's decision and if we make it tough for him, that's good for us goaltenders.

"But two guys like me and Cristo can push each other to play better. I think that's going to be a good competition for both of us."

Notes - Forward Alex Kovalev (charley horse) and defenceman Craig Rivet (bruised hand) missed practice Friday. Carbonneau said Rivet definitely would play against Ottawa, while Kovalev will try to skate Saturday and see if he is fit to play. If he can't, his place will be taken by rookie Guillaume Latendresse on a line with Sergei Samsonov and Tomas Plekanec.



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