MONTREAL - Carey Price's first taste of live NHL firepower will come against the high-scoring Pittsburgh Penguins.
The highly regarded rookie got the nod from coach Guy Carbonneau on Tuesday that he will start in goal when the Montreal Canadiens visit Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. "It's pretty exciting to get going," the 20-year-old said. "I might get a lot of shots, so I'll get into the game early.
"I know what I'll be up against. They're a really good team with a pretty high-octane offence, so it should be a great game. I'm a little nervous, but it's just another game and hopefully I have a lot more ahead of me."
Rookie centre Kyle Chipchura will also play his first NHL game, while rookie Mikhail Grabovski comes out of the lineup.
And Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is expected to play despite taking a shot off the foot that led to some swelling this weekend. Last season's NHL scoring leader and MVP missed practice on Monday, but skated with the Penguins on Tuesday.
The Canadiens may have preferred a less challenging opponent for Price's first start, but a schedule with a lot of down time between games left little choice.
It was either start him now or wait until next Tuesday against Florida, but they didn't want to leave the rookie inactive that long.
Carbonneau feels veteran Cristobal Huet, who started the first two games of the season, deserves the right to play the team's home opener on Saturday night against Carolina.
"We didn't want to keep (Price) away from the ice too long," Carbonneau said. "He's been solid since the start of training camp.
"I talked to (goaltending coach) Roland Melanson and our staff and we all feel good about putting him in."
It will be Price's first meeting with Crosby, even though they are the same age and were both taken in the 2005 draft - Crosby first overall and Price fifth.
"When I played under-18, he was at the world juniors and when I was at world juniors, he was already in the NHL," said Price, who has starred at every level he's played so far.
Last season, he led Canada to gold at the world juniors and was named tournament MVP, then joined the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs and took them to a Calder Cup, earning playoff MVP honours.
Debate raged through training camp on whether Price was ready for the NHL. General manager Bob Gainey overruled the more cautious Carbonneau to keep him on the Canadiens roster.
Price feels ready to give it a shot.
"I've been facing NHL shots for a couple of weeks," he said. "I'm getting used to the velocity, so my puck-tracking's getting a lot better."
And the Penguins aren't strangers. The teams played back-to-back games in Montreal to start the pre-season in September, with Price playing the game that Crosby sat out.
The Canadiens earned three of a possible four points in their opening two regular season games on a road - an overtime win in Carolina and an overtime loss Saturday in Toronto.
But Carbonneau still opted to juggle his lines for Pittsburgh.
Chipchura, a first-round pick in 2004, is to centre a checking line with veterans Steve Begin and Mathieu Dandenault.
With Grabovski out, Tomas Plekanec moves into his spot with Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn, while Bryan Smolinski will centre Guillaume Latendresse and Tom Kostopoulos.
The top line of Saku Koivu with Chris Higgins and Michael Ryder remains intact.
One change on defence has veteran Patrice Brisebois sitting out as a healthy scratch in favour of Josh Gorges. Forward Garth Murray is also out.
The 32-year-old Huet had a strong start to the season, with 29 saves in Carolina, but was outplayed by Vesa Toskala in Toronto.
An aspect of Price's game that excites Carbonneau is his puck-handling, which is not Huet's strong suit and which may be useful against the speedy Penguins.