THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL — Carey Price has a message for the Bell Centre boo birds.
"Relax, chill out," the Montreal Canadiens goalie said Thursday. "We’ve got lots of time. We’re not winning the Stanley Cup in the first exhibition game."
The comments came a day after Price was booed as he allowed four goals on nine shots in a 4-2 pre-season loss to the Boston Bruins.
"It wasn’t a good performance, obviously," he said at practice. "It’s not how I planned things.
"It’s just the way it panned out. That’s why we have these games, to work things out. Not only myself, but the team. And not just our team, every team."
Price said he will prove the doubters wrong and doesn’t plan to ask for a trade to get out of Montreal’s spotlight.
"I’ve never been one to back away from a challenge," the 23-year-old said. "It’s just the way I am.
"I’m not going to cower away from anything. I’ll just be myself and accept what it is I have to do."
Still, it was an emotional start to the pre-season for Price.
The Bell Centre was packed with the usual 21,273 fans, and they greeted Price with applause and by chanting his name.
But when the Bruins scored on three of their first five shots, and four of nine overall, the booing began, followed by mock cheers for the few saves Price made. The loudest ovation came midway through the second period when, as planned, Curtis Sanford took over in goal.
Much of the discontent stemmed from the team’s off-season decision to trade fan favourite Jaroslav Halak, who took the starting job from Price late last season and led the Canadiens on a surprise run to the NHL Eastern Conference final.
General manager Pierre Gauthier and his staff felt they could not fit both unrestricted free agent goalies under the salary cap and opted to keep Price, whom they drafted fifth overall in 2005.
They put a stamp on the decision by awarding Price a US$5.5-million two-year contract and by signing low key veteran Alex Auld as his backup.
It was not a popular trade, and thousands turned out to say goodbye to Halak when he visited Montreal for a charity autograph signing session over the summer.
But Price has been booed before, and even let fans know with an angry, arm-raising gesture during the last of a four-game sweep by the Bruins in the 2009 playoffs.
"That’s just the way it is here," he said. "It hasn’t changed in the last 50 years so I don’t see why it’s going to change in the next 50 days.
"It’s part of the game here. There’s nothing we can do about it but win games and make it stop."
But the booing wasn’t appreciated.
"I don’t know what (the fans’) message was but I don’t think it’s the correct way to go about things," he added. "Wherever I go in this city people are very courteous.
"No one’s ever come up and say ‘You suck’ to my face. I don’t think anyone would ever do that. It’s just when you get in a crowd, people are a lot more brave."
He teammates jumped to his defence, saying it is far too early in the pre-season to judge any player’s performance.
"The expectation here is to win," said Brian Gionta, the leading candidate to be named team captain. "Management, players and the fans are pretty passionate and they want to win, too.
"You can agree with their passion and not maybe how they went about it, I guess. One guy’s not going to make or break a team and, at the end of the day, people have to understand that it’s a team sport."
Coach Jacques Martin took Price aside for some reassuring words at the end of practice on Thursday, telling him that it was only his first game and to "keep things in context."
Auld will be the starter when the Canadiens play the first of back-to-back exhibitions games against the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre on Friday night. He will likely split duties with 20-year-old Czech goalie Robert Mayer. Price will likely play again Saturday in Ottawa.
Also in the lineup will be forward Lars Eller, who was acquired along with big winger Ian Schultz in the trade that sent Halak to the St. Louis Blues.
Eller has been given a prime spot on left wing of a line with Gionta and centre Scott Gomez.
The 21-year-old Dane got a look at what it is to play at the Bell Centre by watching the Boston game from the press box.
"It was something different for sure," he said. "It’s pretty intense.
"On the ice it’ll be a different feeling, but I’m really excited."