Last Saturday, Price set an NHL record by achieving his 10th consecutive win to start a season. And as Arpon Basu of NHL.com pointed out in his column on Tuesday, if Price can help the Canadiens beat the visiting 7-7-1 Florida Panthers for his 11th straight win Tuesday night, he’ll tie a franchise record that was set by Hall of Famer George Hainsworth in 1927 for most consecutive victories in a single season.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Price’s early-season dominance—he has a .957 save percentage, a 1.40 goals-against average and two shutouts—is that we’ve come to expect this level of play from him.
With respect to some of the greatest goaltenders in recent memory—Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur among them—the last one we recall having such a dominant presence in his net was Dominik Hasek, who was stringing together Vezina Trophy wins in the 1990s like he was collecting seashells on the beach.
What does the man famously dubbed “The Dominator” think of Price?
“He is amazing right now,” said Hasek in a telephone interview with Sportsnet on Monday. “I watched him at the World Cup and recently saw him in a game with the Canadiens; he seems to me like everything is so easy for him. The way he makes saves, even when he’s out of position, it seems like everything is so smooth.”
In that respect, Hasek and Price are polar opposites.
The Pardubice, Czech Republic native had a tendency of making every save appear near impossible. He’d flop around his crease, roll into a two-pad stack, and he specialized in second-effort spins to get his blocker on a puck that was destined for the back of the net.
“Dominik was a guy who made a save and didn’t give up, and then he was there again,” said Hasek’s countryman Jaromir Jagr after Florida’s morning skate Tuesday. “Price is the other way around. With his style he looks so slow, but he’s so fast that when he makes a save it’s even more embarrassing for the forwards. He does it like he isn’t going to be there but he’s already there.”
And maybe that trait Jagr recognizes in Price has as much to do with the goaltender’s ability as it does with the evolution of the game.
As Jagr noted, there’s very little difference between first liners and fourth liners in today’s NHL; everyone can shoot the puck with precision.
But in Hasek’s day, nearly every fourth line in the league had at least one enforcer on it and every third line was primarily used to check the opposition’s best forwards. He could show a shooter an opening and take it away all in the same breath.
“For sure, I cheated,” said Hasek. “I’d get myself to cover one part of the net and you expect them to shoot to the other part of the net. You had to out-smart them.”
But Price? His economy of movement allows him to play the position perhaps more honestly as anyone ever has before him.
As goaltender Ben Scrivens, who served with the Canadiens in Price’s 70-game absence last season, put it, the Canadiens’ starter doesn’t need to cheat because his confidence in his own ability allows him to just wait for the action to come to him.
“He’s in more control than anybody else in the league,” Scrivens said last March. “You see him go side to side on a lateral play, whether it’s point to point for a one-timer or two-on-one 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.
“Most guys have a desperation save and they’re committed to it, but he can be in desperation mode and contort and manipulate from desperation.”
That last part is one of the things Hasek made a living on.
Another common thread between the two is in the way they intimidate the opposition with their consistency.
“They have that intimidation factor because they stop all the (expletive) pucks,” said Jagr with a laugh. “They’re there before you even make the shot, so it’s a confidence killer for the forwards.”
Hasek never bought into the idea that his consistency might have the opposition feeling like they were trailing before the game even got started.
“I always looked at it from my point of view, I didn’t think about how the opponent felt,” said Hasek. “I never felt 100 per cent comfortable—like I was starting with a 1-0 lead. I was always starting just praying that I could do my job.
“I remember that a coach, one time, told me that for me the puck looks like a basketball, and I told him, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
“For me it’s just a puck, and I can give up a goal on the next shot. That’s how I approached the game, because you can play your best hockey and all of a sudden you can lose three or four in a row. I enjoyed it, but I tried to be grounded. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself.”
Over time, Price has developed that same mentality.
Gone are the days when Price would offer his thoughts on the big picture, let alone comment on his own individual performance. A conversation with him now includes several clichés about focusing on stopping the next puck that comes his way.
That focus served Price well over his indelible run with Team Canada, going unbeaten in the Sochi Olympics and in the World Cup of Hockey. It’s been the engine behind his incredible 64-18-6 record since the onset of the 2014-15 season.
“I always say it can change at any time,” said Hasek. “You feel confident, you feel like you’re in great shape, however you cannot be too comfortable. Everything can change. It just takes one little thing.”
But if things remain as they are for Price—and it’s hard to imagine him slowing down in the foreseeable future—his name will be etched into various chapters of the record books.