Jaroslav Halak has been in this situation before when he first joined the Montreal Canadiens late in 2006-2007.
Two years later, he finds himself in a similar situation: the playoff weight on his shoulders as the Canadiens desperately try to sew up a spot in post-season play.
Surely, we’ve seen enough of Carey Price to know that the team can not count on him to get the job done over the final 11 games of the regular season, following yet another porous performance in last night’s 5-4 loss to the Senators in Ottawa. Despite showing signs of life in recent starts, although the final results weren’t there on the scoreboard, Price once again failed to provide this club with major-league goaltending.
Price was pulled just 2:28 into the second period after giving up his fourth goal: this one by Jarkko Ruutu that put the Sens ahead 4-1; a soft, cheesy backhander that drifted over Price’s shoulder from a nearly impossible angle: the fourth goal given up on 15 shots.
Exit Carey Price: Enter Jaroslav Halak. For good, you would have to think, especially when you consider how well Halak responded to the challenge against the Sens, coming in cold, making some huge initial saves, stopping 23 of the 24 shots he faced, and actually giving his team a chance to win this one.
Price has simply been unable to rise to the occasion, despite being given ample opportunity by both Guy Carbonneau and, now, Bob Gainey.
Hey, listen. I’m the first to admit that Halak, for the better part of the season, has been nothing more than a .500 goaltender.
Mind you, the Canadiens have been nothing more than a .500 hockey team, but I digress…
Even when Price was injured from mid-December through mid-January, the Canadiens were winning way too many games by scores of 5-4. True, Montreal’s team defence, or lack of same, has been a problem with this club from day one. But Halak never looked like anything more than a backup 2goaltender.
It’s partly a process of elimination, what with Price’s struggles. But at the same time, I keep going back to the four straight games that Halak just about singlehandedly won for this club at the end of Feburary. Unfortunately for the young man from Bratislava, Slovakia, he proceeded to come down with the flu, and was forced to watch the next five games from the sidelines.
Was Halak healthy enough at any point during that five-game stretch to return to action? We’ll probably never really know the answer to that question. All I can tell you is that Price was given another opportunity, and during that stint, yes, he responded with some better hockey. He also responded with a record of two wins and three losses.
He was “okay” in his last start, prior to the Ottawa game, when the Rangers came up with a 4-3 shootout win. But his play in the third period against the Rangers, when he gave up two goals, and in the shootout, when he couldn’t stop a puck, didn’t leave you with you feeling warm and fuzzy all over.
Listen. I know the Hollywood script calls for the Canadiens to ride into the playoffs in this, their 100th season, with golden boy and former first-round draft pick Carey Price leading the way. But that script needs a major rewrite. And you can start by putting Halak, a 9th-round pick (271st overall) in the 2003 NHL entry draft, back in goal tomorrow night when the Toronto Maple Leafs are in town.
If nothing else, Halak has been here before.
When Christobal Huet went down with an injury in the second half of the 2006-2007 season, the Canadiens ended up recalling Halak from Hamilton on Feb. 15th that year, in an effort to salvage the season. Halak proceeded to win his first three games in the NHL and was a perfect 7-0 at the Bell Centre where, as it turns out, the Canadiens will play most of their hockey in March.
The Habs never advanced to post-season play, that season, as the Canadiens rushed Huet back into service and the team fell out of playoff contention at the bitter end. But Halak did his job. And that’s exactly what they need their goaltender…ANY goaltender…to do: