The Canadiens go on media blackout mode for two days with no practice, and the city's sports talk lines are buzzing with talk of Jaro v. Carey.
There are several other possible topics of conversation for people to get passionate about, such as the Habs utter lack of scoring in the New Year, for instance. With four goals against NHL goaltending over the past four games (not counting the empty-netter against Florida), the Canadiens are proving once again that they just can't get their entire game together at once.
When the puck's going in the net, the defence is allowing 40-plus shots a night. When the defence finally figures it out and tightens up, the scoring goes dry. It could simply be that the team is not good enough to do both at once, or it could be a question of circumstances, but either way it's a worrying stretch of four games that would definitely merit some discussion.
But perhaps that lack of scoring or porous defence - whatever happens to be the Habs mood or number of healthy bodies in that given week - are two things that point the spotlight on the Habs net, seeing as Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price become the lone determining factor between a win and a loss under those trying conditions.
I went to play my weekly game of lazy, old man basketball tonight, and on my way I was tuned into Ron Fournier's popular evening call-in show on CKAC. I listened to Marc Denis talk about what he would do with the goaltending situation in Montreal. He felt that the Habs should keep both guys because that's what will give them the best chances of making the playoffs, but at some point they will need to pick a No. 1 guy for the playoffs and ride him. That's kind of my reason for feeling Halak should be traded, seeing as a No. 1 guy has to be designated at some point, but that's just me.
Two hours later, I returned to my car after huffing and wheezing my way through a game that could barely be described as basketball, and when the radio came on they were still talking about the same thing. Two hours of radio is an eternity, and I'm sure Ron had no shortage of callers over that time who wanted to weigh in on the situation.
This is simply what people do in this city, and if you take it like good, clean fun, then that's all it is. But if you take debates like this one and label it a controversy, then I feel it's going too far. There is no controversy here. Both goalies know the situation: you play well, you stay in. Perhaps Price takes this as an affront to his status as franchise saviour, or Halak sees it as an impediment towards his ultimate goal of being a starter in the NHL, but that matters little in the grand scheme of things. At least not for the time being.
I think Bob Gainey has been pretty clear on this that no goalie will be traded prior to the Olympics because the schedule is pretty jam packed until then. But when he does decide to trade a goalie, or if, then it's also pretty clear it will be Halak. You can love that position or you can hate it, but that's the reality of the situation. Bob Gainey will not trade Carey Price, and I'm with him on this one.
Why? Well, I continue to stand by my belief that Price is only 22, and there are few goalies in NHL history who have done what he's done at his age. I'm not going to pull out the numbers on Roy and Brodeur and Luongo and whoever else at age 22.
But I will say that I'm pretty sure the Pittsburgh Penguins are happy they didn't give up on Marc-Andre Fleury when he was 22 and he was stopping fewer than nine out of 10 pucks sent on goal and allowing 3.25 goals per game. Two years later he was in the Stanley Cup final, and a year after that he won it. Before you go there, I'm not saying Price will do the same thing. Obviously he doesn't have Crosby, Malkin, Staal et al supporting his bid to be a champion. My point is that goalies take time, and Fleury at the same age was considered a bust who was unlikely to fulfill his tremendous potential. Now he's on the Canadian Olympic team and a Cup champion.
For further information on this debate, I will defer to Chris Boyle. If you haven't read his stuff over at Robert Lefebvre's Habs Eyes on the Prize blog, you should immediately. Not only is the statistical analysis mind-bogglingly exhaustive, but his preface to this month's entry sums up my thoughts on this debate perfectly. Too many people have made up their mind both on Price and Halak, while the fact is there are huge question marks still surrounding both of them. Does Price have the work ethic and discipline to make it as an elite netminder? Could Halak ever carry a team and play 50 or 60 games in a season? We don't know the answers to either of those questions, so we probably shouldn't be acting like we do.
Still, Halak's expressed desire for increased playing time makes this a topic that needs to be discussed, and people are doing just that. Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, in his weekly round-up of rumours, states that Halak would still interest the Philadelphia Flyers, while Thursday's Bell Centre visitors the Dallas Stars could also be intrigued based on Marty Turco's impending UFA status.
I would have to guess the Stars will get a very good look at Halak on Thursday, because I can't see how Jacques Martin can go with Price at this point. But that decision, and the ones that come in the games following it, have little bearing on the goaltending "controversy" in Montreal. It just shows that, for now, the one and only position where the Canadiens are among the most talented teams in the league is in goal.