When I read today that Carey Price would be starting in goal for the Canadiens on Wednesday night against the Penguins I must admit to being a little surprised. Now I’m not surprised that Price is starting, but I am surprised by how early in the season he’s playing.
After all, I don’t think that Cristobal Huet has played poorly this season. Actually, I thought he was excellent in the first game against Carolina, and then at worst average, in the second game against Toronto.
But after giving it some careful consideration I think I can see the Canadiens logic. I don’t think that this decision was based as much on Huet’s play, as the Canadiens have been able to pick up three out of a possible four points so far this season. I think the decision was based on the Canadiens desire to see what they have in Carey Price.
In training camp there seemed to difference of opinions regarding Carey Price and where he belongs. It is believed that Price’s spot on the Canadiens roster was decided on by general manager Bob Gainey. From his comments to the media, it seemed that head coach Guy Carbonneau believed that Price should have started the season in Hamilton.
What the two men seemed to agree on was the fact that Price needed work in order to further his progress, the question was, should he get the work in Montreal, or in Hamilton?
By playing Carey Price tomorrow in Pittsburgh both men have seemed to come to agreement on how to handle the net minder and his duties as he plays out his rookie NHL season.
By inserting Price this early into the season, against the powerful Penguins, the Canadiens are revealing their curiosity about what they have sitting on the end of their bench. Price is also familiar with the Penguins, as he played against them in the preseason.
Playing Carey Price this early in the season has definite advantages for the Canadiens. No team in the league is more offensively gifted than the Penguins, and they will provide Price with a stressful test. By playing Price this early in the season, they also satisfy the seemingly delirious need of the press and Canadiens fans to see Price in action.
If Price plays well this opens the door for the Canadiens to consider playing him more and in different situations. The better Price is, the better the Canadiens are, and the time to find out what you have is early in the season, and not later on when you should already have a handle on your teams strengths and weaknesses.
If Price doesn’t play well in this game and in some others in the near future, the Canadiens can send him down to the American Hockey League and bring up Jaroslav Halak from Hamilton. This would satisfy the hunger of Canadiens fans and the media that have been pining for Price to play for the last couple of months, and would allow Price to develop away from the spotlight of Montreal.
I think the Canadiens want to avoid a situation where Price is mentioned in the press or by the fans as the solution and/or the savior if the team struggles on as the season progresses. The team seems to be firing a preemptive strike against a potential firestorm down the road.
Think of this alternative scenario. Say the Canadiens had sent Price down to Hamilton to start the season and keep Halak as Huet’s backup. As soon as the Canadiens go through a rough patch in the season, there would be calls for them to bring Carey Price up to the big team. To say that Price would be facing a tremendous amount of pressure would be an understatement. Honestly, it’s not as if Price doesn’t already have enough pressure on his shoulders. And if he didn’t succeed, what have the Habs then accomplished.
Another factor in the Canadiens plans was the numerous days off between Canadiens games this early in the season. If Price doesn’t play against the Penguins, he wouldn’t be playing on Saturday night in the team’s home opener. That would make the Canadiens home game against the Florida Panthers on October 16th the next logical start, almost two and a half weeks since he last saw game action. If the team’s stated goal is to get Price some action the Penguins game presents the best opportunity.
Gainey and Carbonneau are performing a delicate balancing act. They realize that they have a legitimate number one goalie in Cristobal Huet. At this moment he gives them an excellent chance to win every game he plays. At the same time, the Canadiens have the top goaltending prospect in the NHL in Carey Price. In order to find out if the reality meets the potential, the Canadiens need to see Price get some game action against NHL competition. The balancing act for the Canadiens is twofold, by playing Huet too much they risk Price’s development being stunted if he spends too much time on the bench. On the other hand, if they play Price too much, they risk a goaltending debate, and a number one goaltender that could easily grow stale on the bench. Ultimately, the decision must come down to which of the two goaltenders gives the Canadiens the best chance to win on a given night.
As a Canadiens fan I can hardly wait for the Penguins game to start. After all the hype we are all going to see Carey Price play his first game for the Canadiens. We finally get to see the phenom in action at the NHL level. Now the story begins, as we finally begin to get some of the answers to many of the questions that have been asked. Now we get to find out if Carey Price can live up to the highest expectations I have ever seen of a Canadiens player.
And of all teams it’s the Penguins, and of all places in Pittsburgh. Carey Price becomes the third Canadiens goaltender to make his first career start at the arena fondly known as the Igloo.
The other two; Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy.