Carey Price should’ve learned from 2015-16 and not played through injury

Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin discusses Carey Price's injury and progression, and explains his reasoning for claiming journeyman goalie Antti Niemi off waivers as depth.

Here’s the $84 million question most people should be asking in the wake of Carey Price updating the hockey world on his injury status: Why in the world would he play a full game in Minnesota after suffering an injury in the warm up?

It sure seems like a case of foolish pride.

The Canadiens will pay Price $10.5 million in each of the next eight seasons that follow this one in the hopes that he’ll continue to be the consensus best goaltender in the world. They signed him to that contract extension back in July in spite of his injury history, which is long and concerning. And they can’t possibly be happy about the fact that he concealed this most recent injury and decided to play an entire game on it.

“I was not aware he got hurt in the warm up,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said on Tuesday. “I found out after the fact. I didn’t know until the next day.”

Price had a perfectly logical explanation for why he decided to play in what turned out to be a 6-3 loss to the Wild on Nov. 2.

“Obviously any athlete will tell you: when you’re warmed up and running on a bit of adrenaline, you don’t ever feel like it’s as bad until you wake up the next day and everything’s cooled down and you’re not feeling the adrenaline anymore,” he told reporters on Tuesday, ahead of his team’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The bottom line is that Price did feel something before the Minnesota game and caution should’ve ruled before he went out and offered one of the most perplexing performances of his career with the Canadiens.

Price allowed two goals in a span of 10 seconds in the first period and was stumbling around his crease for the rest of that night in a way that had just about everyone (including this reporter) wondering how it was possible he had slipped so far away from being his best self.

If Price didn’t alert the medical staff to his situation before the game, he definitely should’ve by the time the first period was through and he had allowed three goals on 14 shots.

Later in the game Price appeared to have a real problem moving laterally from left to right, as evidenced on this goal by Wild defenceman Jared Spurgeon at the beginning of the third period, but he insisted afterwards he wasn’t hurt.

“I wasn’t looking for excuses for my play or anything,” Price said on Tuesday. “I just didn’t think [the injury] was going to be as bad as it was.”

Who knows if he made it worse? There’s no telling if that was the case when Price slipped on a puck during warmups in Edmonton on Nov. 29, 2015 and suffered the injury that would ultimately keep him out for all but 12 games of the 2015-16 season. He played through the pain and suffered a 4-3 loss to the Oilers that night — it’s hard to imagine that helped his situation.

Price should’ve learned from that night. Instead, it was déjà vu watching him explain to reporters on Tuesday that his position makes healing from a lower-body injury a patience-testing exercise.

Price was talking in the room instead of practising for a third consecutive day with goaltending coach Stephane Waite because, as he put it, “it just wasn’t getting better; it was just getting stagnant, so I decided to give it a rest for a couple of days and reassess it in a couple of days.”

Price added that he was no closer to returning to practice before he skipped Tuesday’s session than he was when he started skating a week ago. It seems obvious his current course of action—getting rest—is a better one to take than possibly exacerbating this injury by continuing to skate on it.

“I just want to make sure I’m 100 per cent and that I can do my job to the best of my ability when I come back,” he said.

Both Price and Bergevin estimate that he’ll be back in the Canadiens net soon, though neither of them wanted to talk timelines. With Price sidelined and with backup Al Montoya suffering from a concussion diagnosed last Friday, the Canadiens claimed Antti Niemi, who was placed on waivers by the Florida Panthers on Monday.

As Bergevin explained, Niemi serves as an insurance policy for the Canadiens while Price and Montoya recover from injuries that will keep them out for an indeterminate amount of time. Charlie Lindgren, who’s 3-1 with a sparkling .964 save percentage and a 1.24 goals-against average, will continue to start games for the Canadiens and Niemi will serve as a more proven backup than Zachary Fucale, who was called up from the AHL’s Laval Rocket on an emergency basis this past weekend.

“He doesn’t have any NHL experience and spent most of last season in the ECHL,” Bergevin said of Fucale, further explaining his decision to claim Niemi.

It’s a move that might not have been necessary had Price reported his injury the minute he suffered it.

“It’s been a little bit longer than expected,” Price said of his recovery. “I kind of expected it to be within the two-week range.”

Now that he’s got some extra time, he might want to use some of it to think about how he’ll handle all future situations of this nature. There’s too much riding on his long-term health and ability for him to allow his pride to get in the way again.