MONTREAL — For the last nine seasons, a Carey Price-Henrik Lundqvist goaltending duel has been the main attraction of a game between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens. But the patrons in attendance, and the thousands more who watched Saturday night’s instalment on television, were deprived of that.
Lundqvist, who has a lifetime 4-7-2 record at the Bell Centre with a 3.68 goals against average and an .882 save percentage, likely didn’t have an issue giving his starting spot up to o back up Antti Ranta on Saturday.
But Price, who’s dominated the Rangers no matter where he’s played them (12-5-1, 1.74 GAA, .943 save percentage with seven shutouts), was probably not all that content to be watching Mike Condon take the net in his place for the 50th time this season.
It was against the Rangers on Nov. 25, that Price last appeared in a game. His Canadiens were leading the NHL standings and leading the game 2-1 when he went down in the second period.
The Canadiens prevailed 5-1 that night, but no team in the league has had a worse record since.
Price played 66 games last season. His 44 wins, which were achieved by sporting the NHL’s best numbers in nearly every goaltending category, helped him fill his mantle with the Hart, Vezina and Jennings Trophies and the Ted Lindsay Award. He was later named Canada’s top athlete as the 2015 recipient of the Lou Marsh Trophy.
He’s widely considered the world’s best -- not only by Canadiens fans but by their counterparts.
Long-time NHL executive John Ferguson Jr., who’s one of the most-traveled spectators of the game, weighed in with a technical assessment of Price’s attributes.
“Consistency, hockey sense, talent, size, calm demeanor…Tell me when to stop,” texted Ferguson.
A 20-year scout from the Western Conference added the following: “He’s got the whole package; size, technical skill, and athleticism. And he’s in the prime age for a goaltender.”
On Saturday, the 28-year-old Price missed his 64th game of the season with a suspected knee injury. He was in attendance to watch his team officially become mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, as Condon give up four goals on New York’s first 15 shots and a fifth before the end of the second period.
Ben Scrivens, who started the third period, turned aside all four shots he faced.
“What’s difficult for me and for the rest of us is easy for him,” said Scrivens. “The difference between him and everybody else is equivalent to the difference between [Connor] McDavid, [Sidney] Crosby and the rest of the league.
“He’s in more control than anybody else in the league. You see him go side-to-side on a lateral play, whether it’s point to point for a one-timer or 2-on-1 back door, when he moves he’s compact the whole way. Or at least if he’s spread, he’s spread for a purpose. His movements are so efficient, that’s just what it is.
Most guys have a desperation save and they’re committed to it; he can be in a desperation mode and contort and manipulate from desperation, which is something that very few guys can do.”
The Western scout adds that Price’s leadership, his presence, and the other intangibles of his personality help round out the NHL’s most impressive profile.
Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty, who’s had to adjust in his first season as captain without Price, feels the void in the dressing room.
“It’s not fair to Condon or Scrivens to have to deal with being in a shadow as large as his,” said Pacioretty. “And of course we miss him in the room. I feel like a lot has been exposed, but we’ve been working on different parts of our game. And we’ll be a lot better with him when he comes back.”
Whether or not Price will return this season is up in the air.
He went from solo skating sessions in late-January to taking part in practice in full equipment with Montreal’s injured players in late-February. He continues to receive treatment, continues to push himself in the gym and continues to make slow progress, according to team officials.
“To have an MVP miss this much time is not unprecedented,” said Scrivens. “But overall it hurts the game. You want to see the absolute best talent in the league to sell the game, and the league as a whole is worse without Carey Price in it.”