We must begin, of course, by tackling your Montreal Canadiens’ goaltending controversy.
There is no goaltending controversy.
Carey Price will ride his two-game losing streak into Carolina and start against the Hurricanes on Thursday night.
He is the Canadiens number 1 goalie, for now and for the future.
Was Price at his best in the Canadiens’ 6-3 loss to the Islanders?
Nope. Four goals on the first 17 shots he faced is not going to remind anyone of Patrick Roy or Ken Dryden or Jacques Plante or … the list of goaltending greats is long in Montreal, all the way back to Georges Vézina, immortalized in the name of the NHL’s puck-stopping trophy.
In the shadow of the Chicoutimi Cucumber, Price has recently been the Anahim Leak.
He wasn’t great … actually, not even good in that crazy Saturday night loss to the Penguins.
In two starts, against the Penguins and Islanders, Price has a goal-against average of 6.00 and a save percentage of .797.
I’ll wait a minute while a significant proportion of the Commentariat looks up Jaro Halak’s stats.
Then we can chew over The Trade and talk about whether Lars Eller will ever be a Top Six forward. And where the heck is Ian Schultz, anyway?
And all the François Allaire wannabes out there can chime in with learned analyses of Price’s glove hand, the speed of his lateral movements and the vexing issue of whether he goes down faster than … well, I can’t think of a metaphor suitable for a family website.
Price is going through a tough patch. It happens.
He hasn’t stolen any games … but he hasn’t had to. The Canadiens have opened the scoring in 17 of their 23 games, including the loss in Uniondale.
If the Canadiens were clinging to eighth place, with a week to go in the season, I’d be worried about Price. But they remain atop the Eastern Conference, nine points clear of a playoff spot.
There’s time for Price to get back in a groove … and for his teammates to recapture the mojo that carried them through a surprisingly strong start to the truncated season.
I don’t think you can hang the loss to the Islanders on Price. In his rather testy and curt postgame remarks, Michel Therrien said Price might have wanted another chance on the Islanders’ fourth goal – a Radek Martinek long shot that appeared to be tipped in front of the goaltender.
But the game was lost, the coach added, by blown coverages, particularly on the two power-play goals the Islanders scored – bringing their total to four PP goals in two games against the Canadiens.
I thought the game was there for the taking after Brian Gionta’s historic goal – the 20,000th in the Canadiens’ NHL regular-season history – brought them back from a two-goal deficit to a 3-3 tie. But momentum had barely settled in on the Canadiens bench when Martinek put the Islanders ahead to stay.
Notwithstanding their 32-24 shot advantage, I didn’t think the Canadiens troubled Evgeny Nabokov unduly.
The David Desharnais line, superb in Boston on Sunday night, was not a factor on the Island. The most impressive forward in a white jersey was 19-year-old rookie Alex Galchenyuk, who made some lovely passes – including the one that set up Tomas Plekanec to open the scoring – and stepped up his defensive game.
P.K. Subban was minus-2, but he scored a power-play goal, added an assist and led the Canadiens with seven shots on goal. It has taken a while, but I think P.K. has become the P.K. we know and love – a fast, skilled and highly dynamic defenceman who strikes fear into opponents every time the puck is on his stick in the offensive zone … the more so now that his shot is becoming more accurate.
As evidenced by the explosion of goals scored by the Penguins and Islanders, the Canadiens are having issues in their own zone. The defence and supporting forwards have a tendency to wilt under forechecking pressure, with the result that Price has faced higher-percentage shots than he was seeing earlier in the season.
The Canadiens miss Raphael Diaz. And Andrei Markov, who is 34 and skating on knees that are 64, probably should not be playing 27 minutes, as he did against the Bruins and Islanders.
The team is taking a physical pounding. The Islanders outhit the Canadiens 25-17. Matt Martin and Colin McDonald each had six hits. Ryan White, Colby Armstrong and Travis Moen combined for five.
You have to go back to their Feb. 7 visit to Buffalo to find a game in which the Canadiens outhit an opponent. And they lost that one in a Shootout.
The gang on L’Antichambre noted the invisibility of Travis Moen – signed for three more seasons, at $1.85 million per – and agreed the Canadiens could really use someone to help the valiant Brandon Prust.
But the ideal is a tough guy who can play, a Prust clone who’s taller and heavier.
Sadly for the Canadiens, the Milan Lucics and Chris Neils of the NHL do not grow on trees – or pop up on waiver wires.
But let’s not forget that the undersized Canadiens won in Boston on Sunday – due, in no small part, to the courage of Prust and Alexei Emelin.
And it’s not like they were runout of the dilapidated Nassau Coliseum into the cold Long Island night.
Your Montreal Canadiens played badly and deserved to lose.
Carolina will be a chance to bounce back, for the goaltender and the guys in front of him.
• Wonder what the Vegas payout would be on a parlay that combined the Dow hitting a record high, Canadiens’ 20,000th goal and the death of Hugo Chavez?