It turned out Guy Carbonneau made the right goaltending choice, as he was pleased to acknowledge after the game.
Speaking in French at his press conference, Carbo poked gentle fun at the skeptics and said what could be loosely translated as “that’s what I get the big bucks for.”
Carbo showed confidence in his Number 1 goalie, and Cristobal Huet rang up a shutout and stole two points for the kindly old coach.
Count me among those who thought Carey Price should have started last night – and I was not alone.
I guess that’s why Carbo gets to stand behind the Canadiens’ bench in a nice suit while I watch from the pressbox in a Harris tweed jacket.
Huet is the coach’s guy. That’s why Carbonneau disgreed with his boss on whether Price ought to be starting the season in Montreal.
I think Carbonneau figures his job is on the line this season.
“It’s my ass,” the coach probably reasons, “and I’m not going to trust it to a 20-year-old goalie.”
Bob Gainey, whose futuare also may hinge on the Canadiens making it to the postseason, prevailed. He believes the development of Price – who is the goaltending future of this franchise – will will be better served at the NHL level.
But as the season progresses, how much playing time will the kid get?
Price has played four of the Canadiens first 14 games. He’s on pace to make 23 starts this season … assuming Huet, who’s never played more than 42 games, stays healthy and starts 59 games.
I think Price should make at least 30 starts.
But I’m not the coach.
• • •
Turns out Carbonneau’s other brilliant stratagem – moving Andrei Kostitsyn to the secod line – was dictated by injury.
Guillaume Latendresse tweaked his lower back in the pre-game warmup. So Carbo moved him down to the third line, where Guy! Guy! Guy! played 13 minutes to 15:17 for Kostitsyn.
I wonder if Latendresse has ever heard of Wally Pipp (Google him, kids).
In evaluating Latendresse, Pierre McGuire has said that fans ought to consider the draft position of a kid who was rushed into the NHL last season because the Canadiens wanted another guy for the French media to interview.
In 2005, Guy! Guy! Guy! went in the second round, 45th overall.
Kostitsyn was a 2003 first-rounder. The Canadiens got him at 10 … and the buzz was Kostitsyn would have gone higher if teams weren’t scared off by a medical condition that has since been brought under control.
As my friend Pierre says, amateur scouts know what they’re doing.
There have been first-round busts – as we in Montreal are painfully aware. But the draft is usually a fairly reliable indicator of NHL potential.
Just look at teams like Pittsburgh and Ottawa, which are loaded with first-rounders.
Bottom line: Andrei Kostitsyn is a much better hockey player than Guillaume Latendresse.
Moreover, his skills complement those of his linemates, Tomas Plekanec and Alex Kovalev (who will do what he can to help a homey).
I think Kostitsyn is on the second line to stay … at least until he’s promoted to the first line.
• • •
Speaking of Michael Ryder …
Good effort last night. He played physical and made a couple nice passes.
But the 30-goal scorer has to get untracked, and there’s no indication that will happen soon.
Ryder had one shot and four hits last night. Those numbers should be reversed.
• • •
The Canadiens did not play a great game against a team that’s struggled this season.
Stand by for tasteless metaphor: the Canadiens have worse first periods than a Grade Sixer at boarding school.
They were outshot 16-8 in the first period and 9-1 in the third until Bryan Smolinski’s empty-netter.
But it’s a long season. And bagging two points on an off-night is further proof, if any were needed, that God is a Montreal Canadiens fan.
(Sadly, however, He seems to like the Leafs when Cristobal Huet starts.)
So let’s look at a few positives:
• Gotta love the pluggers: Bryan Smolinski, Steve Bégin, Mathieu Dandenault, Kyle Chipchura, Tom the Bomb Non-stopolis. They play Hockey 101: keep it simple, nothing fancy. Fight for loose pucks and contest every inch of the ice. Chip it in, forecheck, cut off passing lanes in the neutral zone, backcheck and start all over again.
Not elegant. No one will mistake the third and fourth lines for Shutt-Lemaire-Lafleur or Blake-Lach-Richard.
But you need lunch-pail guys to win hockey games.
• Discipline. The Canadiens took two penalties last night, while outhitting the Sabres 26-21.
• Faceoffs. The Canadiens won 33, lost 25. Kyle Chipchura was 5-1. It’s good to control the puck, rather than chase it all night as they did against the Leafs.
• • •
My friend and former colleague Michael Farber has a customarily excellent Sports Illustrated piece on the success of the Canadiens power play.