The Montreal Canadiens are all too familiar with the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie situation, calling back to the days of Jaroslav Halak, and Carey Price.
Jarry, a second round pick of the team in 2013, had come off an impressive 28-15 record with AHL Wilkes-Barre, but found himself still splitting duties with current AHL starter Casey DeSmith. Murray, on the other hand, had gone from being an undervalued third round pick to the team’s goalie of the future, leading them to back to back Stanley cups in 2016 and 2017.
Similarly, despite Cristobal Huet cementing himself as the starter for the Habs heading into the mid-2000s, the team used their 5th overall pick in the 2005 NHL entry draft to select Tri-City Americans starter Carey Price. At the time, this selection brought plenty of hype, with Price having put together some solid seasons in the WHL. It was very much an example of the Habs selecting the best player available.
On the opposite side of the spectrum sat Jaroslav Halak, the 271st overall pick in the 2003 Entry Draft who had yet to play a full season with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. Yet, in 2009-10, Habs head coach Jacques Martin had the same dilemma Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan faces now. While Pittsburgh has managed to keep up a consistent string of success over the past few years, Murray has been dealing with inconsistency issues over the last 3 seasons, recording GAA’s of 2.92, 2.69, and 2.87 respectively.
Because of this, Jarry has slowly but surely made a name for himself as a solid starting option, recording a 20-12 record with 3 shutouts and a 2.43 GAA this season. It’s a story that has seen itself play out many times in NHL history, whereby an unknown goaltender slowly but surely earns more playing time as the pegged starter falters.
The 2009-10 season on paper, wasn’t the strongest one for Montreal, as the team finished with a 39-33-10 record as Price struggled to find his form, recording a 13-20 record with a 2.77 GAA. Halak, on the other hand, recorded a 26-13 record with a 2.40 GAA and 5 shutouts, earning the starting nod as the Habs barely scraped into the playoffs.
Against all odds however, Montreal rode Halak past the Presidents trophy winning Washington Capitals in the first round, and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in the second, before falling in five games to the equally underdog Philadelphia Flyers in the Conference Finals.
While it was an amazing achievement for an unheralded Canadiens team, it presented a dilemma regarding which goalie the team should look to moving forward, with both Halak and Price set to become restricted free agents. While Halak had proven himself as a potentially elite goalie in the NHL, Price had the arguably higher upside overall, and had proven in the past his ability to be a starting goalie. At the moment, the Penguins find themselves in the same situation, with both Jarry and Murray playing on expiring contracts.
Looking back at NHL history, these situations appear at times, and in this case, offers an interesting discussion point for both Montreal and Pittsburgh, with the two teams currently in the midst of a best of five qualifying series to determine seeding in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. At the moment, Price is the only option the Habs have, as backup Charlie Lindgren has yet to prove himself capable of taking on a consistent secondary role. In the end, it will be Price’s performance that will determine the Habs fate in this series, which currently sees the underdog Habs leading 2-1.
For Pittsburgh, Murray has played well up to this point, and has shown, like many of the Penguins stars, to play his best hockey in the post-season. Should the Pens embark on a deep run behind Murray and their stars, look for the team to most likely go with Murray come the end of the season. While DeSmith isn’t nearly as a talented as Jarry, he did split duties with Murray last year, recording a serviceable 2.75 GAA over 36 games. Prospect Alex D’orio is also an option for the future, as he continues to develop in the ECHL.
For Montreal, the team ultimately went with Price over Halak, trading the Slovakian native to the St. Louis Blues in the 2010 offseason, in exchange for former first round pick Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. Since then, Halak has moved around the NHL, spending time as a starter with the Blues, Capitals, New York Islanders, and Boston Bruins. Following a struggling 2016-17 season which saw him assigned to AHL Bridgeport, he rebounded and has since established himself as one half of a terrific one-two punch in goal for the Bruins, alongside Tuukka Rask.
Price has established himself as one of the best goalies in the NHL, but has also had some off seasons, and didn’t play his best hockey at times this year. Its ultimately impossible to decide which option the Canadiens should have gone with, as theirs so many angles to take regarding the situation. For the Penguins however, I feel as though Murray has the higher upside and should be given the teams trust. However, it remains to be seen what happens.
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One thing’s for sure though, no matter the outcome, the Penguins goaltending situation is one the Canadiens are all too familiar with.