During his cameo in Adam Sandler's laugher Happy Gilmore , Bob Barker, the charismatic former host of one of TV’s most popular game shows, The Price Is Right , quipped, "You know what's driving me crazy? You not getting the ball in the hole!"
Well, I imagine the Montreal Canadiens goaltending tandem of Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak are going a little mad with how starts are being doled out by coach Jacques Martin at the moment.
After winning four games in a row and being named the NHL's first star of the week in late December, Halak was unable to hold onto an early lead against the Ottawa Senators on December 28, 2009, and got tagged with the loss in the 4-2 defeat. However, after a very nice stretch in the crease, many thought Halak had finally moved into the role as The Habs No. 1 keeper.
Obviously not, because two nights later at home against The Bolts, Price got the call between the pipes and played a very strong game, making 34 saves en route to a 2-1 OT victory. Following a nice performance on Montreal’s season-high seven-game road trip and pushing the team's record over the .500 mark, a number of hockey watchers fully expected to see Price back in net on New Year's Eve against the Florida Panthers.
Hold your horses. Halak got tapped to mind the net against the Panthers, a game in which he stopped 32 shots and escaped with the win in a 5-4 final in favor of Montreal.
So much for the notion of win and you're in, right.
So what formula or strategy are Martin and executive vice president and general manager Bob Gainey using when it comes to starts and their masked men?
No one really knows for certain, but with rumors surfacing that Halak was offered to the Philadelphia Flyers last month and the Slovakian netminder wanting more playing time, here's what I'm (and probably many others are) thinking: Halak is being showcased, especially against weaker teams, to try and increase his overall trade value.
With a mere 74 games played on his NHL resume, getting more games under Halak's belt is vitally important, as potential trading partners will want to ensure he's capable of carrying the heavy load of a fulltime starter.
And getting him into games where he has a better chance of posting a victory would undoubtedly be a very smart and shrewd move by the Canadiens management.
For those paying any attention, Halak’s late December win streak came against teams sitting outside the playoff picture, while a majority of his triumphs this season have also been garnered against draft lottery hopefuls like Toronto, Atlanta, and the New York Islanders.
From now until the Olympics, I honestly believe Montreal will continue to employ a very unorthodox goaltending platoon system, with Halak taking a bulk of the starts against the league’s lesser lights and playing more often, even against top teams, if he does get on a roll.
And while the current state of affairs can't be helping Carey Price's confidence and growth as a goaltender (not to mention my keeper fantasy team), the situation should be resolved in short order with Halak being shipped off to a playoff bound team with question marks in net (i.e. Washington, Philly, Detroit).
In my mind there has never been a goalie controversy in Montreal and I have an inkling Mr. Gainey, who drafted the young puckstopper 5th overall back in 2005, would agree.
For Montreal, the Price is right. The only question that remains now is what, and how many, teams will be participating in the Halak Showcase Showdown.
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