Who will play against Ovechkin tonight? Markov or Spacek?
Who will play the most minutes? Gomez or Plekanec?
Who will play on the PP? Pouliot or Metropolit?
All questions we could be asking. All questions we rarely ask. Instead we fixate on the question of who starts in goal for the 90th time this season.
Who’s playing the next shift?
The pursuit of the Stanley Cup is notoriously difficult – due to the physical nature of the game, the frequency of play and the sheer number of required victories.
No other major competition has such a conspiracy of factors. The World Cup, far more laden with pressure is at least less physically grueling. The NBA playoffs take the same format, but the sport of basketball is a different kettle of fish to hockey. The World Series is both shorter and incorporates more rest time. The Super Bowl spaces it games for recovery and hype.
It’s puzzling then that the same expectations are laid on by hockey fans as those of other pursuits. That one player will dominate every night, that one coach will have all the answers, and in this case that one goalie will carry all the load.
Starting this game is by no means a declaration that one goalie is better than the other or that one goalie will be favoured in contract negotiations over the other. What it comes down to for a goalie is, I think it’s time we as fans change our perspective here. The Habs’ pursuit, as over-reaching as it sounds this morning, is not to win this series, but rather to win the Stanley Cup. As such, why not start looking at it this way. Especially with regard to Halak or Price.
Instead of asking who the franchise goalie is, why not just ask: "Who will be playing the next shift?"
The goalies are no different from all skaters – everyone wants to play every minute that their body can bear. Like other skaters, they also want to win, and by their age know that winning takes not only skill, hard work and luck, but also the maturity to withdraw and let your teammates help.
While we’d never want either goalie to be happy about being withdrawn under the circumstances that Halak was the other day, we shouldn’t make this unhappiness into something it’s not. Halak is unhappy with himself, first and foremost, not the injustice of the universe. If Price starts tonight, Halak will not necessarily be eternally insulted and shun all future offers. If Halak starts, Price has enough know-how by now to understand that the decision is situationally based and not built to offend him.
There may be a time when goalie concerns about meeting time played and win bonuses cross their minds. In the Cup playoffs, when the prospect is to stay alive in this grueling competition, I think everyone understands that shifts will come and shifts will go. From all evidence, both goalies want to win and seem to be willing to contribute directly, or by sacrifice, to make that happen.
On that note, I don’t have much inkling as to what I’d do in Martin’s situation, which weapon I’d deploy. More than hearing one name or the other, my hope is that the decision is delivered well and explained to both eventual starter and back-up in terms of this 2-month competition. Like it or not, we need them both.