The Florida Panthers are in town. Interesting/unimpressive stat: the Panthers are 26-16-4 all time against the Habs, and are the ONLY team in the NHL to have a winning record against the League's oldest and most storied franchise, the Montreal Canadiens. That, we should all agree, is simply wrong.
Pat Hickey's syndicated article looks into the goaltending situation, which is never more than a step or two away from controversy. Coach Carbo has announced that Carey Price will be the starting goalie tonight - even though ostensible number one Cristobal Huet has apparently completely recovered from his groin strain, and has watched from the bench as Price's back-up for the past two games. Apparently, Huet is not impressed ... which Carbonneau doesn't mind at all: he's glad the veteran's competitive streak remains intact. That's fine for now, but this situation is coming to its crisis rather ahead of schedule. While Price has played well in his last few outings, the question of whether he is ready to assume the number one job is far from settled. His mostly excellent last two outings have each been marred by a soft, late goal. He is beatable in the high corners and does not possess the quickest glove. The potential is there and it is rapidly shaping itself, but it may not be time to hand him the ball yet. Then again, maybe it is. I'm glad I don't have to make the call, I'll say that. It's ironic that Carbo seems to be leaning towards Price, given that he was in favour of sending the big rookie to the AHL at the beginning of the year, and was overruled by Bob Gainey. At least it shows he's not afraid to admit he was wrong.
In the Gazette, Pat Hickey reports on the recent turnaround - two years coming! - of the Canadiens 5-on-5 play. The Habs scored four even-strength goals for the first time since, oh, since about the invention of the internet against the Leafs on Saturday.
In La Presse, Francois Gagnon also touches on the Huet/Price debate, quoting Cristobal Huet, who strikes a philosophical tone: «C'est sûr que je suis déçu, car je veux disputer le plus de matchs possible. Mais en même temps, Carey a très bien fait pendant mon absence et je comprends qu'il ait ainsi forcé la main de l'entraîneur», which boils down to, "I'm disappointed because I want to play, but Carey has played well and forced the coach's hand." Sounds about right. Gagnon also quotes Carbo on the necessity of the Habs not suffering a let-down after an emotional win over the Leafs on Saturday. What, the Habs, suffer a let-down? Naw.
Also in La Presse, and also by Francois Gagnon, is a nice article on the Canadiens youth movement. Eleven players 25 years old or younger, most of them - Price, Higgins, Plecanek, Komisarek, Kostitsyn, Chipchura - filling pivotal roles. As Gagnon says, it is clearly the beginning of a new era in Montreal Canadiens hockey. Well, while the emergence of the young players is obviously a welcome development, and while just about all of the younger guys are doing an admirable job, it is still too soon to buy into the hype that sometimes surrounds the Canadiens youngsters. None, after all, is a gamebreaker (though Price has the potential to become one). None is the pure offensive force the Canadiens so desperately need, and no-one of that description seems to be in the system, either. What the Canadiens have, with their fresh crop of recent draftees, is the basis of a really solid supporting cast. For a star player, it seems they will still have to look without, or continue to live without one.
Lions in Winter breathes a sigh of relief that the rumoured - but undoubtedly phantom - trade with the Sharks (Koivu for Marleau) never went down. I wholeheartedly concur. The article asserts that Marleau would be a 60-70 points scorer for the Habs (quite probable, given his track record) and that Koivu would score 85-100 points for the Sharks (rather less likely, perhaps, given his track record!), but the issue doesn't hinge on points for me. Koivu is a leader, and a life-long Hab who, if he stays with the team, will one day take his place among the team's all-time best. Despite playing in the "dead puck era", he has managed to move into the teams top ten all-time assist leaders, and a few more seasons will see him do the same in the points column. That would be a major accomplishment, given the company he'd be in. Koivu should be a Hab for life.
On the other side of the argument, Eyes on the Prize has a translation of Guy Lafleur's column in le Journal de Montreal on Saturday, in which the Habs legend suggests that Saku is burnt out as a Montreal Canadien, shows little interest or emotion, and should be packaged in a trade with Michael Ryder while there is still "meat on the bones". Eyes on the Prize is appalled, and you can understand why, but essentially Guy is not saying anything many of the fans haven't said lately. It's a little tacky and certainly sensational ... but as Carbo would say, that's just Guy being Guy.