MONTREAL - The drama around the Montreal Canadiens goaltending will take months to play out.
Did Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier make the right choice when he decided to ship out playoff hero Jaroslav Halak after his marvelous playoff run and go with Carey Price as the club’s go-to guy?
We know what the fans thought of that decision after Price gave up four goals on the first eight shots he faced in what turned out to be a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins in the Habs’ pre-season opener Wednesday night.
Price was unfairly jeered by the Bell Centre crowd.
As Price said, the Stanley Cup isn’t won with the first pre-season game and it will be months, maybe years, before anybody knows if Gauthier made the right call.
The performance of the two goaltenders will determine that.
To add to the mix and the debate, the Canadiens and their fans got a look at a somewhat overlooked piece of the puzzle Friday night in the Habs’ 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre.
Forward Lars Eller, the key return in the deal that saw Gauthier trade Halak to the St. Louis Blues (the Canadiens also got winger Ian Schultz, a gritty winger who played with Calgary of the WHL last season), played on the top line alongside Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez against the Senators.
Eller is a 21-year-old Dane with a pedigree, having been taken 13th overall by the Blues in the 2007 draft.
He’s had decent offensive numbers: 29 points in 48 games with Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League two years ago and 57 points in 70 games with the Blues’ AHL team in Peoria last year and named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team.
He scored two goals in seven games with the Blues.
Canadiens winger Mike Cammalleri, who has been sitting beside Eller in the dressing room, said he asked a friend in the Blues organization for a scouting report.
“The first thing he said to me was he’s a guy that’s hard to play against for the other team,” said Cammalleri. “He kind of has that feisty edge to his game. That’s huge attribute. Not a lot of guys have that.”
Ottawa’s Craig Schira found that out in the first period when there was a puck along the boards and Eller put his shoulder into him, shaking up the Senators defenceman. He wasn’t shy about getting into the blue paint, either.
Said one scout: “If I was going to compare him to somebody it would be Alexander Frolov. A more rugged Frolov.”
Frolov, now with the New York Rangers, had a couple of 30-goal seasons with the Los Angeles Kings.
If ever gets 30 with the Habs, that will help fans get over Halak.
Eller was relishing the opportunity to play with top-tier players Friday, though it looked like the two vets were reluctant to trust him with the puck.
“It’s good to get the first game over with. I was excited,” said Eller, who played 18 minutes and 20 seconds, was plus-1. “I think it was a little step in the right direction. I want to show more. I’m sure I’ll be better as we go on.”
There is certainly a great chance sitting there for Eller and a chance to play with either Gomez and Gionta or Tomas Plekanec and Cammalleri on the wing or perhaps centring the third line.
There’s room for Eller this year, especially if Benoit Pouliot and Andrei Kostitsyn - who scored a goal Friday night - don’t ramp up their play.