The centennial season has not gone as planned for the Montreal Canadiens. A team that was expected to fight for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and be a contender for the Stanley Cup, finds themselves sitting in eighth place by a single point with 10 games to go.
Could their losing ways be attributed to the massive amount of pressure weighing down on the team in this, their 100th season in the league? Could it be the loss of two great defenders (Sheldon Souray, Mark Streit) in the past two years finally catching up to them?
Or could it simply be the majority of the team, free agents at the end of the season, not giving their full effort each night?
All of those things certainly have had an impact on the Habs, but there is one thing that should be recognized as the first, and most destructive, decision that Bob Gainey made that has the team on the verge of missing the playoffs this year.
It happened on Feb. 26, 2008.
The Canadiens were looking to make a move at the trade deadline, and decided to do something that was controversial and defiantly risky, but a decision they felt was the right one.
At 11:50 AM the Habs traded starting goaltender Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals for a second-round pick in this years draft.
This left Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak to battle it out for the starting job in net, a decision they felt would work out in the long run. Two young goalies at the beginning of their careers, both with a ton of potential and a good team in front of them, a choice they hoped would help make their centennial season one to remember.
Not so much.
Shipping out Huet to the Capitals has left the Canadiens with two inexperienced goalies who clearly are unable to handle the pressure of leading a team to the playoffs. Things seemed to be going well throughout the season, but since the All-Star game hit Montreal the two net-minders, Price in particular, have been abysmal.
Neither has been able to go on a run of any significance, letting in questionable goals, and showing no sign of confidence. Neither is in the top 30 in the league in GAA, and their save percentage is nothing to brag about either.
Now Huet, currently on Chicago, is not a superstar goalie by any stretch, but he does have more experience and had the Blackhawks sitting in fourth place in the West. The Canadiens should not have jumped so quickly at the chance to let the younger generation of goalie to take over for them.
Now the Habs are left to deal with the fact that their goalies cannot seem to play at a level they are expected to. Even if they squeak into the playoffs as a lower seed, their play now will not get them very far.
Saying that the goaltending is the only reason the Habs have fallen so far, so fast would not be fair, but it is a major reason why they’re sitting where they are right now.
Price and Halak have turned out to be two goalies who are unable to lead their team, unable to deal with the pressure, and unable to live up to the huge expectations resting on their shoulders from a hockey-crazed city.
With the Habs 100th season on the way to being a huge disappointment, the goaltending can certainly be looked at as the reason, but don’t put the blame on the two young guys in the net.
The fault lies with Bob Gainey and the one decision he made over a year ago to let go of a solid goaltender. With that second-round pick in this year’s draft that they received in return for Huet, the Habs should seriously consider picking up a goalie for the future.
By the looks of things right now, they are going to need one.
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