Commentary

Point Shots: Halak displaces Carey Price

Updated: February 26, 2009, 4:47 PM ET
By Jim Wilkie | Special to ESPN.com

Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak will remain the team's No. 1 goalie until he plays himself out of the job. "We're hoping that someone can put together a series of wins, and we'll go with the hot hand," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau told The Montreal Gazette on Monday. That was before Halak stopped 34 shots for his first shutout of the season in Montreal's 3-0 victory over Vancouver on Tuesday night.

"He's been waiting for this for a long time," Carbonneau told The Associated Press after Tuesday's victory. "It's unfortunate for Carey [Price], but hopefully he can win us five, six or seven games in a row." Price, the team's once and future franchise goalie now will have a seat on the bench in another bump in his frustrating season. He was voted to the All-Star Game by fans but hasn't come close to matching his performance from last season, when he took over as the team's starter.

[+] EnlargeCarey Price
Jeanine Leech/Icon SMIPrice's struggles have opened the door for Halak to take over in net.

Price has struggled since he injured his ankle Dec. 30. He is 2-10-1 with a 3.81 goals-against average and an .869 save percentage since then. "We're putting a lot of pressure on a 21-year-old," Carbonneau told The Gazette. "When you get a player like [Edmonton forward] Sam Gagner whose performance dips a little in his sophomore year, you don't notice it as much as when it happens to a goalie like Carey. But there are lessons to be learned here, and he should come out of this as a stronger person."

Montreal certainly isn't giving up on Price -- and neither should fantasy owners -- but in the midst of the playoff race, the Habs can't afford to let him play his way out of it. Fantasy owners should consider Halak, who is owned in just 7.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues, at least for the short term, as the Canadiens are playing better with the return of forward Alexei Kovalev and the addition of defenseman Mathieu Schneider and have won two in a row. Forward Alex Tanguay might be back from his shoulder injury by the weekend as well, according to The Gazette.

Another hot Hab

Keep an eye on Montreal forward Tomas Plekanec, who has six goals, four assists and an even plus-minus rating during a six-game points streak. "It's all in your head and when you start doing things right, you find that you're in the right spot. You play a basic game, stay on the defense first, and everything comes from that. When you're confident, you keep your feet moving and you don't feel tired during the game," Plekanec told The Gazette.

Plekanec, who is owned in 65 percent of ESPN.com leagues, has 16 goals, 16 assists and is minus-1 in 59 games. He was part of a dominant line with Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn last season, but the trio couldn't duplicate that success early this season and have been shuffled around with different linemates. Carbonneau reunited the line for the past two games, both victories, and it resulted in a goal and three assists for Kovalev, two goals and an assist for Plekanec, and no points for Kostitsyn.

"I've always tried to be honest with myself," Plekanec told The Gazette. "There's nobody else that can put the pressure on that I put on myself. I know how I should play and how things should go for me and the team. The last couple of nights, it's been the way we want it to be."

Campbell's curious statistics

Here's an inexplicable statistic for Brian Campbell's owners to remember: He's far more productive on the road than at home. Campbell has 24 assists and 28 points on the road to lead all NHL defensemen, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Blackhawks blueliner has just 13 points at home so far this season.

"It kind of baffles me," Campbell told the Tribune. "Maybe it's just things aren't coming as easily at home. I've tried to change things up at home with how I prepare for games a little bit. I really don't have an answer for it." Campbell is ninth overall among NHL defensemen with 41 points. "I'm pretty proud of what I'm doing on the road," Campbell told the Tribune. "It's a lot tougher to score on the road, so I spin it around and try to see it as a positive."

Demitra breaks finger

Vancouver's balanced scoring attack (at least until it ran into Halak on Tuesday) might suffer a little more after winger Pavol Demitra broke a pinkie finger against the Canadiens. "He broke the tip, but he should be fine," Canucks GM Mike Gillis told The Vancouver Sun. "We'll have him re-evaluated when we get home and we should know more by Thursday."

Demitra has been playing on a line with Ryan Kesler and Mats Sundin, who was slowed by the flu this week. With a strong top unit of Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows, the deep second line has helped the Canucks climb to fifth in the West. Demitra has two goals and eight assists and is plus-3 in his past 10 games.

Kaberle close to return

Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle, the subject of much trade speculation, might be back Saturday against the Senators after missing the past 12 games with a broken right hand, according to The Toronto Star. "It's improving. It's a lot better than last week. My wrister is pretty good but slap shots I can't do right now," Kaberle, who practiced Tuesday, told The Star.

Kaberle has a no-trade clause, but he reportedly has submitted a list of 10 Eastern Conference teams to which he would agree to go. Toronto GM Brian Burke has told the media he is not likely to trade Kaberle because of his puck-moving skills and affordable salary ($4.25 million per season the next two seasons) but he can be had for the right price. Burke told the Toronto Sun he would expect a first-round draft pick, a player who could step into the lineup right away and a highly regarded prospect for Kaberle.

Fantasy owners would fare better if Kaberle moved to a better team, but it looks as if he'll stick with the Leafs, where he has four goals (three of which were on the power play), 26 assists and a minus-12 rating in 49 games.

Jim Wilkie is a former NHL editor and writer for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him at espnpucks@comcast.net.

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