Quickly: I can’t believe Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau started Jaroslav Halak in place of Carey Price at goaltender in last night’s Game 4 matchup with Philly. Bonehead move. I do not understand the thinking behind that; Price had not played poorly in game 3, despite what the sportscasters are blathering about in their 30-second soundbites, not even in games 5 and 6 in the Boston series when the Habs allowed 10 goals in two games. Although it would be fair to say that Price was not brilliant in any of those three games, the goals allowed were not attributable to negligent goaltending; it took a team effort to surrender leads consistently and quickly. On Monday night in particular, (game 3 vs. Philly), Price was screened badly by his defencemen on the first two goals. If the Habs’ blueliners would either stand up at the blueline a little more, reduce the gap between themselves and the attacking Philadelphia forwards and possibly generate the occasional offside OR get the hell out of the 22 year old netminder’s way, he might have had a chance. Since they chose to do neither….not so much. It is true that Price made a mistake on the third goal, but what of it? Is Carbo sending the message that one mistake will result in a player’s butt being nailed to the bench? If so, I suggest he examine the game film a little more carefully, especially any footage he might have filed under “Kovalev, A: defensive coverage”. I suspect that file might be a little thin, so it won’t take Guy long to review the available material. Also, the Kostitsyns’ pictures ought to be showing up on the side of a milk carton any day now. Anyone having knowledge of their whereabouts is invited to contact Canadiens’ management and advise.
My point is that the whole team turned in a Game 3 performance that was a big pile of meh (much to my delight, I might add). To single out Price and bench him as a result has nothing to do with encouraging accountability among the players, and any efforts to justify it on those grounds are ridiculous. Once you accept that, it’s obvious that playing Halak in game 4 was a mistake – down two games to one in the other guy’s barn, you need to win and carry the series back home tied. Going down 3-1, knowing you’ve already surrendered home ice advantage, and heading back home is not a plan for success. The rest is easy: if you have to win this game, you play your best goaltender, no ifs, ands or buts. Choosing instead to turn to a guy with limited NHL experience and who hadn’t played in something like three weeks until the 3rd period of game 3 is not a wise choice.
As it turned out, Halak did not play terribly. He was facing the wrong way for two of Philadelphia’s goals, but at least one of those goals was a direct result of more incredibly bad team defensive coverage. Halak could not be blamed for the loss, but he did not play well enough to steal a win either. It’s possible that Price would not have raised his game to such a level either; we’ll never know, though, because Carbonneau kept his powder dry and his best player on the bench in the Habs’ most important game of the season to date.
I actually like Guy Carbonneau even though he spent all those years as a player wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge and then toiling away in obscurity and boredom for the Dallas Cattle Rustlers (or whatever they’re called). I think he’s shown himself to have some flair for coaching; you can’t argue with the success that the Montreal power play had in the regular season, and there’s no doubt the team over-achieved this year. Both of those things are symptomatic, in my opinion, of good coaching. Even good coaches make bad decisions, though, and tapping Jaroslav Halak on the shoulder last night was one of them.