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Carbonneau says Huet earned right to start in Habs home opener

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MONTREAL - As well as Carey Price played in his NHL debut this week, veteran Cristobal Huet will be in goal Saturday night for the Montreal Canadiens' home opener against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Coach Guy Carbonneau said the 32-year-old earned the honour as the team's No. 1 goaltender through good times and bad during the last two seasons.

And he made sure to tell the media that Huet would play even before the highly touted Price, who looks to be the new favourite of the Bell Centre crowd, shone in a 3-2 win in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.

"It was the right thing to do," Carbonneau said Friday. "Obviously I want to win games, and it's tough to change the lineup when you're successful, but Cristobal Huet earned the right to be there - to be announced (to the crowd) and be in the net.

"I wanted to make that clear to him. I talked to him before the game (in Pittsburgh) and told him why Carey was in the net and he was fine with that. I didn't want to start anything else."

"Anything else" would mean a goaltender controversy, which looks inevitable regardless of how mutually supportive the two goaltenders have been to each other thus far and the fact that the team earned three of a possible four points with Huet in the net for their first two games of the season.

The public has been smitten by Price, the fifth overall draft pick of 2005 who backstopped Canada to gold at the world junior championships last winter and then led Montreal farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs, to an AHL championship.

But it was Huet who stepped up in 2005-06 when Jose Theodore faltered and led the Canadiens to the playoffs, and who starred for Montreal through the first half of last season before missing 20 games with a hamstring injury.

Huet feels it's a little early to push him out of the No. 1 job, or that first home date at the Bell Centre.

"I never had the feeling that I shouldn't (start), but that's my perspective," the French goaltender said. "We'll see what happens. I'm happy to play (Saturday) and we'll go from there."

Carbonneau has not indicated when Price will play again, although a home game Tuesday night against Florida looks like an opportunity. Montreal then plays Thursday night in Ottawa.

The 20-year-old wore a plain white mask in Pittsburgh, but his new mask, painted in a western motif with horses and with the word Habs written across the chin, came in this week.

Another who Carbonneau made a point of starting is defenceman Patrice Brisebois, who sat out Pittsburgh in favour of Josh Gorges.

Brisebois was booed so badly toward the end of in his first stint with the Canadiens that angry general manager Bob Gainey lashed out publicly, saying the boo-birds should stay home.

The Montreal native signed with Colorado after the 2004-05 lockout, but returned this summer as an unrestricted free agent at a greatly reduced base salary of US$700,000.

Fans laid off Brisebois during the pre-season, but who knows what the reaction will be during pre-game player introductions?

"One of the reasons we got him is that he's a good player," said Carbonneau. "I know one of the reasons he wanted to come back was the prove to people that they were wrong and this is a good day for him to start that."

But Montreal fans should be a good mood after the Canadiens started the season with an overtime win in Carolina, an overtime loss in Toronto and the regulation time win in Pittsburgh, for five of a possible six points.

They had the same number of points after three road games to start last season and then lost to Ottawa 3-2 in their home opener.

After their loss to Montreal, the 3-1-1 Hurricanes have begun to look like the Stanley Cup champions they were two seasons ago. They trounced the Maple Leafs 7-1 in Toronto this week and then handed the Senators their first loss of the season 5-3 in Ottawa.

"They want to ruin our party like we did to them. so it'll be a good game," added Huet.

The Hurricanes bring a high-pressure attack, with three strong offensive lines, while the openings they leave have been covered smartly by hot goaltender Cam Ward. Eric Staal has five goals in as many games for the 'Canes.

Carbonneau watched the Ottawa-Carolina contest and called it "a funny game.

"It was two offensive teams that didn't want to play defence. I thought there were a lot of breakdowns. That's a game we can't get into. We don't have the offence that Ottawa has. Our game is playing well defensively.

"Carolina brings three or four guys into the zone. Their defencemen aren't afraid to pinch and they sometimes have three guys behind the net."

He said the Canadiens were successful in Carolina because "we made some really strong plays to get out of our zone."

They also scored on three of eight power play chances in Raleigh.

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