Montreal's Huet rewarded after getting all the work in Canadiens net

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MONTREAL - Cristobal Huet is thriving on a heavy workload since ending the debate on whether he or rookie Carey Price should be the starting goalie for the Montreal Canadiens.

Huet was named as the NHL's third star for the month of January on Friday. He had an 8-2-1 record with a 2.40 goals-against average and one shutout last month.

The French goaltender has started 10 straight and 15 of the club's last 16 games, while Price was dispatched to AHL Hamilton on Jan. 8 to rebuild his shattered confidence.

"We had a good month overall," said Huet. "We we able to score a lot of goals and our defence played really good. I manged to play well when they needed me, but for the most part, the team played well in front of me."

Huet will be in goal again on Saturday when the Canadiens host the New York Islanders (2 p.m. ET). Coach Guy Carbonneau will then decide whether to go with Huet or backup Jaroslav Halak for another home game on Sunday afternoon against the New York Rangers.

The 32-year-old Huet opened the season as the starter, but some impressive early games by Price earned the 20-year-old more and more work as the season evolved. Price peaked while starting six straight games in December while Huet sat out with a groin injury.

But Price, the fifth overall draft pick of 2005 who won a gold medal at the 2007 world junior championships and then a Calder Cup with Hamilton last season, went off track in late December and the team opted to give him more time in the minors.

Up to then, there was debate on whether Price should be handed the No. 1 job, particularly since Huet is not signed beyond this season and can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. But Huet has been a rock in goal since his return from the injury.

"You just go out and try to play better and better each game," he said. "The race is tight and it's always fun to play when there's a lot on the line.

"I understand that Carey is a great goalie and he's going to have a great future. I understand the organization's standpoint. The only thing I could do to help the team and myself was to try to play well when I was in and prove that I can be an elite goalie in this league."

Huet, who is earning US$2.75 million this season, said there have been no contract talks during the season.

His work has impressed his teammates.

"It's amazing to think that people wanted Carey Price to be the starter at the beginning of the year," said winger Christopher Higgins. "I mean, Carey's going to be an unbelievable goalie, there's no question.

"He's got the mindset and the talent. But Huet is great. We love him in the locker-room. He's got a great personality. He's very humble but he's competitive. He hates giving up even one goal. That's all you can ask of a goalie."

The question remains as to how long Huet can keep it going.

Due to injuries and other circumstances, he has never played in more than the 42 games he appeared in last season, when he missed 20 games in the second half with a groin injury.

While he was out, Halak shone in goal down the stretch, but it was Huet in the net for the final game of the season when Montreal's playoff hopes were dashed by Toronto in a 6-5 defeat.

In 2005-06, Huet started the season on the injured list after knee surgery, but won the starting job in the second half.

He has been excellent in stretches since he was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings with centre Radek Bonk in 2004 for goalie Mathieu Garon and a draft pick, but has not yet had the chance to show what he can do with a heavy workload over a long period of time.

"My conditioning feels great and, mentally, I feel sharp so ... so far, so good," he said.

Added Higgins: "Since he's been in Montreal, he's been absolutely phemonenal. Lights out. Hopefully he can keep going because we need him.

"I don't think players think too much about other players' contracts. Those things sort themselves out. But he's playing himself into a lot of money right now and deservedly so."



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