I like Jaro Halak. I like the fact that he's had to fight and scratch for every opportunity he's ever been given, and most of the time he justifies any faith shown in him. I also like Carey Price. He's a talented young guy who has every possibility of fulfilling his great promise. Neither of these young goalies is perfect, but neither are they terrible. Halak was great in the loss to Calgary last night. Price has stolen outright two of the team's measly eight wins. At this point, the goalies are the least of this team's worries.
That said, though, I think there's justification in giving Halak a little more playing time than he's used to having. As Ken Dryden wrote in "The Game," there are good "good team" goalies and there are good "bad team" goalies. He said, in essence, that a good "good team" goalie needs to be able to stop the pucks he's supposed to stop and be ready for that occasional moment when his team needs him to come up with a big save. A good "bad team" goalie can give up a bad goal, but then redeem himself with inspired play and improbable saves after that. Based on his definitions, I think Price is a good "good team" goalie. Halak is a good "bad team" goalie, and right now, the Habs are a bad team.
Price is a very good technical goalie, and is at his best when he's able to get set and predict the pattern of the play. Behind a good team defence, he's great. If his D is helping him out by keeping the shots to the outside, most of the time he'll stop them. It's when it gets scrambly, when the puck is in his feet and nobody can clear it that he's got problems. That's why, when the Habs score and the opponent responds by pushing back hard, when the defence starts to struggle, Price so often gives up the next goal fairly quickly. Halak on the other hand, is less technically perfect, but more reflexive. His more unorthodox style helps him in those crease battles, when he somehow manages to find a way to smother the puck or clear it out himself. When the defence is as unpredictable as the Canadiens' is right now, you need a good "bad team" goalie.
But even more important than individual style, Dryden says the most important skill a goalie needs is the ability to put mental hang-ups out of his head. Here's what he writes:
"Because the demands on a goalie are mostly mental, it means that for a goalie, the biggest enemy is himself. Not a puck, not an opponent, not a quirk of size or style. Him. The stress and anxiety he feels when he plays, the fear of failing, the fear of being embarrassed, the fear of being physically hurt, all are symptoms of his position, in constant ebb and flow, but never disappearing. The successful goalie understands these neuroses, accepts them and puts them under control. The unsuccessful goalie is distracted by them, his mind in knots, his body quickly following. It is why Vachon was superb in Los Angeles and as a high-priced free agent messiah, poor in Detroit. It is why Dan Bouchard, Tretiak-sized, athletic, technically flawless, lurches annoyingly in and out of mediocrity."
We have to admit, no matter how much we're rooting for him or admire him, Carey Price has yet to discover the ability to control his neuroses. From the crying after losses to the Royesque salute in the final game last year, and on to the wall-punching and dropping the f-bomb on live TV after losses this season, the kid is not in great control of his own emotions. And, until he gets that part of his game together, he looks more like the inconsistent Bouchard than the steely-minded Dryden. Maybe it's because he's still so young and he cares so much about winning. Maybe it'll turn out to be a fatal flaw in his ability to fulfill his promise. Either way, right now, the Canadiens aren't helping him out much in learning to deal with the ups and downs that come with playing goal for a very middle-of-the road kind of team.
Playing Halak, who does seem to have a better handle on his own reactions, a little more often might help a bad team win a few more games. It would also relieve some of the organization-imposed pressure on Price to be the undisputed number-one guy. It would give Price a chance to deal with his emotions and learn how to keep them out of his game. And, I believe, if he can accomplish that, he can become a great goalie.
The point here is, the goalie on whom the team has pinned its greatest hopes isn't ready for the role. He, and the team, are fortunate to have a second good, young goalie on the team who can carry a good part of the netminding load and give his partner time and space to develop into the goalie we hope he can be. Halak is there to help the team win, but also to help support his partner, Price. In light of that point of view, I don't see a goaltending controversy in Montreal at all.
It's time to stop worrying about the goalies. I mean, come on! Look at the rest of the team and check out the problems. NOW you can worry.