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THN.com Blog: Who is the Habs’ No. 1?

Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price are battling for crease supremacy in Montreal. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price are battling for crease supremacy in Montreal. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

In the interest of integrity and honesty, I’ll state now that the comb I’ll use to sift through the Montreal Canadiens’ goaltending situation will not be nearly as fine-toothed as the one employed by Chris Boyle in a hyper-detailed breakdown of the Carey Price/Jaroslav Halak dynamic.

But I do have my take.

Of the many questions asked on a Montreal game day, the one most consistently posed to coach Jacques Martin is, “Who will be your starting goalie tonight?”

There’s a two-fold, interrelated reason for the query’s frequency. First of all, Martin has decided he won’t announce a starter until game day – but the question always has to be asked only because neither Price nor Halak has done much rein-grabbing this year.

Both young goalies have been given a shot to establish themselves as the team’s No. 1 man, which is a positive departure from previous seasons in which it seemed mandated from above that Price would be the main guy, regardless of the fact the only time he really looked like Patrick Roy was when giving a mock salute to the Bell Centre crowd.

Price and Halak have each appeared ready to assume the top spot at times this season, usually right before a soft goal or wrenching loss put the entire situation back to Square 1.

Halak has the better record (5-3 compared to 3-7), but Price has the high-end performances. Of Montreal’s eight wins this year, three were a direct result of outstanding outings by Price in which he stopped 43, 34 and 42 shots.

It’s not that the 22-year-old has been terrible in his other starts; he just hasn’t consistently played at the level Montreal needs him to be at.

Enter Halak, who usually provides a steadying influence, if not spectacular play. Good as Halak, 24, has been at times over his career with the Habs, it still feels to me like he’s in goalie purgatory, not quite a true No. 1, but worthy of more than infrequent backup duty.

It should also be pointed out that neither puckstopper has had a ton of help from a pop-gun offense that has just two goals in its past three games, something that makes a goalie’s margin for error awful thin.

Speaking of thin, the Habs are also playing without regular blueliners Andrei Markov, Ryan O’Byrne and Hal Gill, while still adapting to the teachings of a new coach. Those facts have combined to create some quality scoring chances for opponents, to say the least.

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I know I promised my own take on this masked mess, but I’m not sure I can put it better than Boyle did in his piece (which came out before Halak’s 1-0 loss to Calgary on Tuesday):

“My opinion? If this team was a legit contender I could understand the cry for consistency and the Halak argument, but with a team that looks to be middle of the pack I would ride out the inconsistencies of the goaltender with the higher ceiling (Price).”

Couldn’t agree more…until the next back-breaker.


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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.


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