MONTREAL - Toronto looks to have the number of Montreal goaltender Cristobal Huet.
So rookie Carey Price will get the start when the Canadiens play the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre. "Obviously, the fact that Cristobal hasn't been successful the last three games against Toronto certainly got into the decision," coach Guy Carbonneau said Monday.
"I don't want to blame him. It's not just him."
The 9-4-3 Canadiens have had a better start to the season than the 7-7-4 Maple Leafs, but Toronto has beaten Montreal in both of their meetings thus far, each time with Huet in goal.
On Oct. 6 in Toronto, the Leafs erased a 3-1 deficit to win 4-3 in overtime on a Tomas Kaberle goal. On Oct. 3 in Montreal, Matt Stajan's goal late in the third period gave the Leafs a 3-2 win.
And then there was the Canadiens' final game of last season, when they wasted a 5-3 lead and lost 6-5 at the Air Canada Centre - with Huet in the net - and were eliminated from the playoffs.
Huet also lost 4-1 in Toronto on Jan. 27, although he was on the winning end of a 4-3 decision over Toronto last Dec. 2 in Montreal.
Otherwise, Huet is having a strong season, at 6-3-2 with one shutout and a .931 save percentage.
He's being pushed by Price, who is 3-1-1 despite being thrown cold into some tough games - including wins twice in Pittsburgh and a loss in Ottawa.
"The guys play well in front of me and that helps me out a lot," said Price, the fifth overall draft pick in 2005 who is pegged as Montreal's goalie of the future.
Price starred for Tri-City in the WHL the last three years and backstopped Canada to gold at the world junior championships last winter. Then he led Montreal's top farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs, to an AHL championship.
"Everybody saw when he got here that's he's cool and really calm in the net," said Carbonneau. "There's a big adaptation from junior to the AHL and an even bigger adaptation to the NHL, but so far it's been pretty smooth."
Carbonneau said he planned the usage of his goalies in advance for the week, with Huet starting in a 3-1 loss Saturday in Ottawa, Price playing the game in Toronto, Huet back in goal Friday night in Buffalo and Price again Saturday night at home against Boston.
That puts 20-year-old Price into the pressure-cooker. Toronto-Montreal games in either city feature large contingents of fans for both teams in the seats, as well as big TV ratings.
"I'm looking forward to it, but I'm not going to treat it any different from any other building I've played in," said Price, who saw action once before in Toronto in a pre-season game.
"It's a lot of fun to play in Toronto. They have great fans there, like we do here. They like to get on the opposite team's goalie and I'm sure they will. But we've got to treat it like any other game."
Veteran winger Alex Kovalev had much the same message with a different twist. He feels the Canadiens may get too much adrenaline flowing when the NHL's two oldest rivals meet.
"Sometimes we focus too much on the rivalry and the fans," he said. "It doesn't matter whether it's here or there, there's always half Montreal and half Toronto fans and some guys go over their heads and try to look at it like it's a final playoff game.
"If we just play a simple game and do things right, things will fall into place. Sometimes, people try to do extra things and it just doesn't work."
In their last meeting, Toronto goaltender Vesa Toskala was the difference as Montreal outshot the Leafs 34-31.
That started the Canadiens on a slight slump that has seen them score only seven goals in their last four games.
Their top line in particular has been quiet, with Michael Ryder without a goal in his last six games, Saku Koivu in four games and Chris Higgins in three.
Ryder, a 30-goal scorer the last two seasons, has only two goals this season. Of late, Carbonneau has been dropping him in favour of checker Tom Kostopoulos when he cuts down to three lines in the third period.
"I'll continue to do that," said Carbonneau. "As for the rest, the answer is in Michael's hands.
"If he keeps working hard and shooting the puck, good things are going to happen. But he'll be the first one to tell you he doesn't like the situation he's in now. It's been hard for him."
Kostopoulos has only one goal and three assists this season. He likes Canadiens-Tor games, having grown up in Toronto.
"I don't think it will ever wear off, that rivalry," he said. "Every game is a big game.
"The fans get excited about it and the players do, too. Especially being raised in Toronto. I definitely get excited about it."
Montreal will have checking forward Steve Begin back from a charley horse, so rookie Mikhail Grabovsky will sit out.