The atmosphere in Montreal is constantly ripe for controversy, especially when the Canadiens are involved. So, it isn’t surprising that one of the main topics of discussion these days is whether rookie phenom Carey Price should -- or will -- supplant incumbent No. 1 goalie Cristobal Huet.
Stirring the pot more was Price’s NHL debut, a 26-save effort in a 3-2 win at Pittsburgh, in the same arena that saw legendary Canadiens goaltenders Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden get their first victories. As for Huet, he has been solid at 1-1-1 in his first three starts.
While media and fans passionately debate who should be between the pipes, veteran defenseman Mike Komisarek and his fellow teammates are approaching having two solid goaltenders as a luxury.
“We’re sitting pretty nicely I think as far as our goaltending goes,” Komisarek told NHL.com. “We have two guys that are very capable of doing the job. You look at what Cristobal has done since he’s been here, being an all-star and basically carrying us the last two seasons when he was healthy. We know he can do it.
”Everyone knows about the amazing run Price had last year in Hamilton (AHL) and he played really well in his first game. I don’t think we view it as a dilemma, but rather a good situation to be in.”
Komisarek said the team’s focus, specifically the defense, is on limiting the chances and quality shots that the opponents get on Huet or Price.
“We know that we need to really focus on keeping the puck out of our zone and doing our jobs as defensemen,” Komisarek said.
According to Komisarek, the chemistry between the defense and Huet is there, but as with any new goalie, Komisarek and his defensive partners are still acclimating themselves to Price’s tendencies.
“Of course you have to get used to each other there and I think he (Price) has done a good job of communicating with us,” Komisarek said. “It’s so important to have that feedback after each practice and during games so we know where he’s going to be or what he might do when the puck comes in along the boards and in the corner. It can be the difference between 20-30 seconds in your own end, or getting it around and out of your zone, hopefully in a clean breakout the other way.”
Heading into the season, there was plenty of buzz about the departure of Sheldon Souray during the summer. Montreal’s power play revolved around Souray and his laser-like slap shot from the point and many questioned who would replace him.
Komisarek agrees that Souray was a key to the team’s success with the man-advantage, but he said the Canadiens have the goods to make the power play click this season.
“Obviously Shelly had a big impact on the power play last season, but we’re past who’s not here now and I think we still have guys who can get it done out there,” he said. “Shelly leaving opened up opportunities for other guys and I think you’re seeing guys capitalize on that. Mark Streit has done a great job out there so far. I don’t think people realize how good and hard a shot he has. But he’s also really smooth with the transition and smart in terms of positioning.”
“Both of those guys obviously bring some veteran leadership back there, but they can still contribute and are going to be a big part of what we do as a unit,” he said.
So while critics and fans continue to analyze every start Huet and Price make, the Montreal defense plans to go out and do their job.
“We have a good group of D men here,” Komisarek said. “I like the guys we have and we take pride in ourselves and as a unit. We didn’t make the playoffs last year and we know we need to be better out there. We just need to do our jobs.”
Sabres lock up Hecht; Senators add depth -- The Buffalo Sabres signed forward and alternate captain Jochen Hecht to a four-year, $14.1 million contract extension Tuesday. Hecht was set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He is now signed through the 2011-12 season.
The Senators signed unrestricted free-agent forward and Ottawa native Randy Robitaille to a one-year deal Tuesday. Robitaille was released from his Russian team, the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, and is required to clear waivers today before being able to suit up for the Senators.
Who’s in net tonight? -- Montreal isn’t the only city in the Northeast Division where there are questions over who starts. In Ottawa, the Senators started the season without Ray Emery. While Emery was recovering from off-season wrist surgery, Martin Gerber re-emerged as a viable No. 1 by going 5-1-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average, a .941 save-percentage and one shutout.
Emery is expected to back up Gerber on Thursday in Montreal and will eventually get his first start of the season. If he performs well, the Senators may find themselves with a similar luxury to that of the Canadiens, having two capable starters.
In Boston, it was expected that Manny Fernandez would assume the starter’s role for the Bruins, but to this point, the unheralded Tim Thomas has outplayed Fernandez. The Bruins returned home from a five-game, season-opening road trip with a surprising 3-2 record and in three starts Thomas was 2-1 with a 1.34 goals-against average and .957 save percentage.
Fernandez however, has struggled to this point, allowing 10 goals on 49 shots and is 1-1 with a 5.01 GAA and .796 save-percentage. To this point, coach Claude Julien has been non-committal to either goalie and plans on a platoon for the foreseeable future.
In Toronto, both Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala have struggled early on, with neither staking claim to the top spot. Toskala, acquired at the draft, with forward Mark Bell, is 1-3-0 with a 4.48 GAA and .878 save percentage. Raycroft also is off to a tough start at 1-0-2, with a 3.19 GAA and .903 save percentage.
But, as Komisarek pointed out above, it’s not always the goalie’s fault and to Raycroft’s and Toskala’s credit, the Leafs allowed 93 shots in their last two games. Saturday, the Penguins peppered Toronto with 51 shots and Monday the Sabres unloaded 42 shots against the Leafs.
Who’s hot -- Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell was named the NHL’s second star of the week with six assists in his last three games, including four in the Sabres’ 7-3 win against Washington on Saturday. Campbell now has a goal and eight assists in five games this season. … Jason Spezza has yet to light the lamp this season, but with five assists during the past three games, Spezza has 11 helpers this season. … Toronto forward Nik Antropov has a goal and an assist in each of his last three games, to bring his total to nine points with five goals and four assists. Antropov is also a plus-9 through seven games. … Sabres forward Tim Connolly had a goal and five assists in his last three games and now has seven points in five games.Black and blue
Buffalo -- Teppo Numminen remains on the injured reserve, recovering from open-heart surgery to repair a faulty valve.
Ottawa -- Forward Dean McAmmond also is on injured reserve after suffering a concussion in the preseason.
Toronto -- Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (knee) and forward Kyle Wellwood (sports hernia), remain on the injured reserve; but both have been skating recently and could be nearing a return. Forward Alexei Ponikarovsky is day-to-day with a leg injury.
The week ahead -- The Bruins have their home opener Thursday against Tampa Bay at the T.D. Banknorth Garden. Saturday, Jaromir Jagr and the Rangers are in Boston. The Bruins then travel to Montreal on Monday.
Buffalo will play back-to-back games this weekend when it hosts Columbus on Friday and then heads to Montreal on Saturday.
Montreal is facing three consecutive Northeast Divisional games. Before it hosts the Sabres and Bruins, it will be at Ottawa to play the Senators. After hosting the Canadiens, Ottawa plays the Panthers at home Saturday. The Maple Leafs will try to bounce back from a tough 5-4 overtime loss to the Sabres on Monday, when they host the Panthers on Thursday. Toronto then plays Chicago on Saturday and Atlanta on Tuesday.