MONTREAL—Carey Price may not be completely out of the woods yet, but he took a step towards greener pastures with his 35-save performance in Montreal’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.
At first glance, this game finished remarkably on-trend for Price, who has struggled considerably since the start of December.
Here are the facts:
– Price allowed at least three goals for the ninth time in his last 11 starts.
- Price was beaten on the blocker side on all three goals.
- It was Price’s third loss of the week and his fifth in his last six starts.
But here’s another fact, courtesy of Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien following Saturday's game:
“Carey was outstanding.”
“Outstanding,” the coach repeated.
There’s no denying it.
Don’t believe it? Ask Sabres forward Matt Moulson, who drove in on a breakaway with 13 seconds remaining in regulation and was stoned by Price’s supposedly defunct blocker.
Ask Rasmus Ristolainen who, seconds later, ripped a puck destined for the top left corner of the net before the goaltender’s glove snatched it away in dramatic fashion.
The crowd went wild.
Price made several other quality saves before that sequence to keep the Canadiens in contention for most of the game, and recovered nicely to make plenty more after Sabres defenceman Cody Franson tied things up at 2-2 at the 11:53 mark of the third period.
Franson’s shot went through a maze of bodies before beating Price, whose reaction on the play clearly indicated he never saw it coming.
As for the other two shots that got past Price Saturday night? The first was a tap-in for untouched forward Brian Gionta. The overtime winner, which was defenceman Zach Bogosian’s first goal of the year, was a shot that was deflected off Canadiens defenceman Nathan Beaulieu’s stick and pinged off the post before going in.
Frustrating? You bet.
“It’s never fun losing in overtime,” said Price. “It’s a lot of fun being out there to come up with a save at the end of the game, but [I’m] just trying to get over the disappointment of the result.”
That result that would’ve been in his favour, had his counterpart Robin Lehner not come up with a heroic save of his own in overtime, diving back to his glove side to snatch away a sure goal from Alex Galchenyuk.
When Price does get over it, when he pulls up a seat at his next video session with Canadiens goaltending coach Stephane Waite, he’s going to see a lot of positives to carry with him into Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames.
Though this week's shore sheets might not reflect it, Price has been climbing his way back to finding his better self over the last six days.
Had his team been able to score in a game against Detroit on Monday, he’d have been named the first star. Instead, the Canadiens lost 1-0.
Against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday—a game Therrien labeled as a rare lousy effort for the Canadiens—Price was hardly to blame for three of the four goals that got by him.
The Penguins were left unchecked in the high-danger zone in front of Price. The result was inevitable.
Still, he said, “I need to be better.”
After a strong practice on Thursday and a night spent as Al Montoya’s backup on Friday, Price delivered on Saturday.
Not to say he was entirely satisfied with his individual performance.
“I gotta keep working on the little things,” Price said. “I don’t have a ton of practice time, but [I] just have to keep pounding away at it and just try to keep building on that and gain some consistency.”
Practice makes perfect.
Saturday’s game was Montreal’s eighth in the last 13 days. They’ve held only three full practices over that time.
That may seem inconsequential to someone like Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, who has mentioned more than once over the last few weeks that the Canadiens do the same thing in all of their practices and that he prefers the rest.
But for Price, who has always talked about how dedicated he is to improving his game through the visualization he does in practice, it’s a big deal—especially when he’s wrapped up in a slump.
“It’s been a pretty grueling schedule so far, so rest has been really important,” said Price.
“Whenever you’re on the ice, it’s nice get some quality reps in and try to carry that into a game,” Price said.
With the Canadiens taking Sunday off, Monday’s practice becomes that much more important for the Canadiens’ starter.
He’ll get one more practice under his belt before the Canadiens host the Flames, then leave for Brooklyn to play their final game before All-Star Weekend.
We’ll confidently wager Price will be that much closer to his superhuman standard by the time he’s facing shots from the NHL’s best in Los Angeles as he represents the Atlantic Division as their all-star captain.
And if you watched his performance in Saturday’s game, you might be inclined to agree.