Coming out a phenomenal 2006-2007 hockey season, during which the Anahim Lake, B.C., native won the gold at the IIHF World Junior (U20) Ice Hockey Championship in Sweden (he was named the Tournament MVP) and the Calder Cup with the Hamilton Bulldogs (he was named playoffs MVP), expectations were very high at the beginning of last season in Montreal.
The 6-3, 212 lbs, butterfly goaltender made the team out of training camp. He shared duties with French goaltender Cristobal Huet for the first few months, before being sent down to the AHL in January 2008 to regain his form after a lackluster start. After a one-month stint with the Bulldogs, the Canadiens called him up and gave him plenty of action before trading Huet to the Capitals at the trade deadline. Price responded very well, leading the Canadiens to a strong finish atop the Eastern Conference. Price finished the 2007-2008 season with a 24-12-3 record, a 2.56 GAA and a sparkling .920 save percentage.
The red-hot Canadiens were to face the 8th seed Boston Bruins which they beat 8 times out of 8 during the regular season. After taking a comfortable 3-1 series lead, during which Price allowed only 5 goals, things changed drastically. The Bruins were able to tie the series 3-3 before seeing the Habs blank them in a decisive 7th game 5-0.
Price showed signs of tiredness and inconsistency throughout the whole series. He now had to face a surprising physical Flyers team that had just eliminated the red-hot Washington Capitals in a long 7-game series.
Price would have to be very sharp to help the Canadiens prevail and reach the Conference finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That would not happen. Price was shaky in each of the Canadiens loss, surrendering at least one soft goal each game, leading to a short 5-game series during which the Habs were out-muscled, outworked and outwitted. The Price was not so right after all, as Carey finished the playoffs with a5-6 record, 2.78 GAA and a very ordinary .901 save percentage.
Now tagged as the Canadiens no 1 goalie of the future, Price had the whole summer to get some rest and get his mental focus back. He even managed to lose the 28 lbs that he had gained during the 2007-2008 season. Lighter, sharper and faster, Price is off to a strong start this season with the Canadiens. After 20 games, he has a 12-4-4, a 2.37 GAA and a great .920 save percentage. He has kept the Canadiens in most of the games with key saves while being more consistent.
Currently day-to-day with a bad cold and a lower body injury, Price will have some time to rest until Christmas. This forced hiatus will keep him fresh through the end of the season and the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Price's inactivity will allow backup Jaroslav Halak to see more action. Seldom used during the first two months, Halak has now started three consecutive games in Price's absence. The 23-year-old Czech goaltender is boasting a 3-4-1 record, to go with a 2.37 GAA and a solid .918 save percentage. The Canadiens' lack of offensive support to Halak has led to a few 2-1 losses. In Halak's nine starts, he has only allowed more than three goals once...
When Price returns, Halak will likely want to see plenty of action as well and battle for the Habs' no 1 goalie spot. However, since Price is the Canadiens' goaltender of the future, Halak's chances of being a true no 1 is more likely with another team. Don't be surprised if Gainey trades Halak at the trade deadline to get a top-6 forward or a steady veteran defenseman to help his team contend for the Stanley Cup for the Habs Centennial. My bet is that the Price will be right at the end of the season.