Habs' goalies good, not great

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

MONTREAL -- In a way, it's a problem a coach likes to encounter.

The Montreal Canadiens' Bob Gainey has two good goalies he can use in the playoffs -- and after a loss by the Atlanta Thrashers last night, the Canadiens will be in the post-season.

But the matchups remain to be seen. It's not only a function of the Canadiens' game tonight against the New Jersey Devils, but also what the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes do.

But it must also be said that Gainey's optimism is not unlimited. He has no spectacular goalies.

He has David Aebischer, acquired in a trade for Jose Theodore, and he has Cristobal Huet, the darkhorse who was more or less forced upon Gainey when he moved Mathieu Garon to Los Angeles.

Each has his attributes. Each has his weaknesses.

AEBISCHER MORE COMPLETE

But those close to the team say that it is Aebischer who would be Gainey's playoff goalie of preference if all other factors are equal.

He's the one who has the playoff experience. He's the one who is the more complete goalie when he's on his game. But his drawback is that he's prone to stretches of mediocrity, and if one of those should strike in the playoffs, the Canadiens probably won't have much time to recover.

When it comes to making the first save, Huet is probably better.

He's sound positionally, invariably square to the shooter, and he has a quick hand. But, like Theodore before him, he has a tendency to drop to his knees at the first indication that a shot might be forthcoming.

And once there, he doesn't bounce back into position quickly.

Even if he makes the save and puts a rebound out to the side, he has trouble getting over and covering the angle.

This weakness has not escaped Gainey's attention and, when Huet is in the net, the Montreal players are aware that they have to act accordingly.

They have to come back deep into the zone so that when the rebound does come out, they will have a good chance to get to it before an opponent can pounce on it and fire it to the open side that Huet has yet to cover.

In fact, when Huet is in the net, it is not uncommon for every Montreal player on the ice to be below the hash marks.

This is the kind of defence that players such as Bryan McCabe love to encounter. The point men are left wide open and if you can get the puck back to them, they usually are able to get off a clean shot.

The problem, though, is that there are so many Montreal defenders down low -- and they're so adept at the defensive game -- that the opponents have a hard time getting possession of the puck and getting it back to the point.

It's an effective defensive system and Huet's goals-against average is one of the best in the league. But it also makes offence difficult -- which stands to reason.

After all, if all five of your players are deep in your own zone, you can't use the stretch passes that are so effective in today's game.

That's why, when Huet was in the net, so many Montreal games ended up with scores such as 1-0 and 2-1.

Gainey isn't known for broadcasting his thought processes, but he probably feels that in a best-of-seven series, the opposing coach has a good chance to devise a strategy that will take advantage of Huet's flaws.

But if Gainey goes with Aebischer, he will get good goaltending but won't have to minimize his offence in the process.

Still, Gainey is the type of person who keeps his hand close to his chest. With Aebischer and Huet, he has two good goalies with different styles.

If the opposition doesn't know which one is going to start, that's just one more advantage for Montreal.


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