It’s been just 10 days since the Habs season opener in Buffalo, and already there are a few interesting storylines to follow when it comes to Le Bleu, Blanc et Rouge, the obvious being the possibility of another goaltending controversy in Montreal. It seems like since the days of Patrick Roy, the Canadiens have failed to ice a team where the number one goaltender’s position was completely secure. Heck, even Roy had his critics heading into the 1993 playoffs. Jocelyn Thibault, who came over in the Roy trade seemed to have his spot locked up in the Montreal crease for years to come, but by the 97-98 season the Habs had brought in veteran Andy Moog to split time between the pipes, and Thibault’s days as the clear cut number one were over. By 1998-99, Jeff Hackett was in town to take over the reigns as the number one, but despite a few solid seasons, he would constantly feel the heat from the up and coming Jose Theodore. The following season saw Theodore play 30 games and best Hackett’s G.A.A. by a 2.40 to 2.10 margin. Theodore-mania was beginning to take a hold of the city, and when Hackett was injured early on the next season, Theodore was the man.
I guess the closest thing the Habs have had to a clear cut number one would have been Theodore’s MVP season, but even then he had to wrestle the job away from Hackett before he could really get going. All of this brings us to the situation the Habs find themselves in today, and as it can be seen, it is not one that is terribly unfamiliar to the team. This was supposed to be the year for Cristobal Huet. After leading the league in save percentage last season, the Frenchman seemed ready to take the reigns and continue his love affair with the fans that started last March when he took the team on his back and led them to a playoff berth. Huet, however, struggled just a little bit as the Habs blew a 4-2 lead in Buffalo on opening night and, as should be the case, David Aebischer was given the start the following night in Toronto. Aebischer was very good throughout the contest, but it was in overtime where he really shone.
To be perfectly honest, overtime against Toronto felt as comfortable as a Taco Bell binge. It was a scene that was all too familiar for Habs fans, our beloved Tricolore had taken a penalty in the extra session, and if this played out anything like it would have last year, the Leafs would score and claim the victory. This year, however, things were different as Aebischer thwarted shot after Toronto shot and preserved the tie score to give his team a chance in the shootout, an opportunity Michael Ryder and the Habs were all too willing to seize.
It probably sounds ridiculous to most, but the previously mentioned love affair with Huet faded just a little bit after the win over the Leafs, and fair or not, Canadiens fans now wanted to see a little bit more of Aebischer.
Does it surprise you that the fans would have such a change of heart? It shouldn’t. Let’s not forget these are the same fans that once booed Saku Koivu and cheered on Mike Ribeiro. Habs fans are possibly the guiltiest perpetrators of the “what have you done for me lately” mentality that has taken over pro sports.
What’s really important, however, is not what the fans think (and shout), but what first-year head coach Guy Carbonneau thinks (and does). Huet came back with a solid performance in Saturday’s home opener against the Sens, minus the first goal, and all indications are that he is still goaltender number 1A. It is quite possible that Huet was never the number 1 goaltender, and that all along Carbonneau had planned to go with a tandem rather than a true number 1. If that’s the case, then the likely scenario will see Huet start about 45 games this year, with Aebischer filling in the rest. Of course, this doesn’t take into account the possibility that one goalie gets the hot hand and plays himself into the number one position. Whatever the case may be, Hab fans can rest easier knowing that they have two solid goaltenders that they can rely on, and that an injury to one of them would not dismantle what could be a promising season.
Latendresse a keeper?
Guillaume Latendresse has made his much anticipated debut, and right now he’s getting mixed reviews. The general consensus is that he may not be suited for 4th line duty, and that he would be much more effective in a scoring role. That’s where the problem begins as there is really no place for him on one of the top two lines this season. Carbonneau and GM Bob Gainey will have to make a decision on him soon, as once he plays 10 games in a Canadiens uniform, he will have to stick with the big club for the balance of the season. The likely scenario is that Latendresse plays that 10th game and continues to receive 6-10 minutes a night on the 4th line for the time being. If an injury should arise to one of the top 6 forwards, you can bet that fans will be calling for him to be given a shot on one of the top two lines, and I have a feeling that Carbonneau will at least give him a look in that role.
Dandenault and Rivet injured
The Habs were reduced to 4 D men for the conclusion of the game against the Sens on Saturday, as both Dandenault and Rivet left with “lower body” injuries. Following MRI’s on Sunday, it appears as though Rivet will be back in the lineup for Tuesday’s game against Calgary. Dandenault, on the other hand, may miss a contest or two with a thigh injury and this likely means that Mark Streit will see his first action of the season. In 48 games last season, Streit scored 2 goals and added 9 assists for 11 points with a +/- rating of -6.