The Hot Seat
There are two ways out for Carey Price.
One, he can have a strong season and make Montreal Canadiens fans forget Jaroslav Halak. Well, if not forget Halak, at least make it appear that their isn't as large a talent gap between the two young netminders as some contend.
Two, Lars Eller can be really, really good. Really, really fast.
If neither of those scenarios emerges over the next couple of months, Price could be facing animosity of rather startling dimensions, at least when he plays in front of home audiences at the Bell Centre.
In the Habs first exhibition start Wednesday night against Boston, Price allowed four goals on nine shots and was booed. Afterwards, he wasn't talking, preferring silence to a description/analysis of either his play or his feelings.
Not an ideal start, even for a meaningless exhibition. Perhaps in retrospect the Canadiens would have been better served to let Price get rolling on the road Saturday night in Ottawa. The Leafs haven't played J.S. Giguere in either of their two exhibitions, although he's expected to see action Thursday night in London against the Flyers.
That said, you don't want to be seen hiding your No. 1 this early, do you?
Eller, meanwhile, didn't play in the pre-season loss to the Bruins, and where the 21-year-old fits in the Montreal scheme of things isn't quite clear at this point. The Danish national was acquired along with junior winger Ian Schultz during the summer for Halak, not quite the obvious home run Montreal fans were hoping for when it became clear that either Price or Halak would have to be moved after Halak carried the club to the Eastern Conference final last spring.
Like his predecessor Bob Gainey, Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier seemed pre-disposed to keeping Price, no matter what Halak did. Still, it was a gutsy move to deal away a playoff hero, particularly when a big name wasn't coming back the other way.
Eller is a former first round pick, and as such he may blossom in Montreal into a top-six forward. If that happens, and quickly - ideally, he would become a surprise rookie-of-the-year candidate - it will take some of the heat off Price. At least fans could then point to the commodities received in the Halak deal to rationalize the transaction.
Or Price could play brilliantly. He's been given the key to the city by the organization. He didn't earn the No. 1 job, but he's been given it, with no challengers. The scenario has been laid out for him to become the next great Montreal netminder.
But if that doesn't happen, and if Eller isn't what the Habs hope he will be in relatively short order, look out.