Coach Carbonneau's ConundrumMarch 16, 2008
Most NHL coaches would love to have Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau's problem.
Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak?
When Habs GM Bob Gainey unloaded Cristobal Huet, the hockey world questioned whether Price would be able to get it done. The weight of the world - as it pertains to Montreal fans - was now resting squarely on the shoulders of the 20-year-old superstar goalie.
He has not failed to disappoint but he hasn't yet secured his place among the pantheon of Canadiens goalies like Patrick Roy or Ken Dryden. It is far too early in Price's career to even to draw these comparisons and quite unfair to the young man himself but such is the way of things in hockey-hungry Montreal, where a 15-year Stanley Cup drought was once believed inconceivable.
Still, while Price has flashes of brilliance - like his win against the New Jersey Devils - he has also showed his inexperience - as was the case against the Ottawa Senators.
By no means should any true fan of the tricolore dismiss Price as not being up to the challenge to lead this team in to the playoffs despite his up and down play between the pipes. On those nights when Price isn't at his best, however, there is another young goalie right behind Price who plays great hockey when he gets the chance.
Jaroslav Halak shined against the New York Islanders, stopping all 30 shots he faced. It was his third career shutout in his 18th start with the Canadiens. Even if you choose not to take his career with the Hamilton Bulldogs in to account, Halak is one of the better goalies in the game. Just look at the numbers: 2-0-0 on the season, 3 goals on 86 shots and save percentage of .965. Statisticians could probably extract what his numbers would be if he played an entire season but as it is, it's not too shabby.
So what is the coach to do?
After the game against the Isles, Carbonneau told the crowd of reporters he enjoys the internal competition.
"At first, because we were playing Carey more we could see Halak was frustrated. We could see he wanted to play, that he wanted to show what he could do and he's done that."
Enjoyable or not, with nine games left in the regular season for the Canadiens, the coach has an interesting problem on his hands.
Who gets the call?
The Canadiens have a tough schedule ahead of them. Following a match-up with the St. Louis Blues, the Habs have a home-and-home with Boston, two games against the Ottawa Senators, two against Toronto and two against the Buffalo Sabres.
Carbonneau has a fine-line to walk here. Not only does he have to show his confiednce - and Gainey's for the matter- in his number one goalie, he has to make certain the back-up, who is also playing some great hockey, get enough time in the crease so that, should Price be felled by injury, Halak is ready to face the big boys.
It's not an easy task, particularly now as the regular season winds down and second season preparations start up. You have got to assume, though, that Carbonneau is happy to be in this position. On the flip side, if the decisions he makes don't pan out as hopes, the weight of the world won't be on Price's shoulders but could, instead, come crashing down on him.