‘Nothing’s ever perfect’: Canadiens’ Price uses gruelling process to win


Montreal Canadiens' Carey Price blocks a shot during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019, in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum / AP)

BROSSARD, Que.— It’s a cliche, but one that proves especially true when applied to the way Carey Price views his own play: The only numbers that matter to him are the ones filed under the win and loss columns.

So when asked about the way he’s started this season, the Montreal Canadiens goaltender’s answer was somewhat predictable given his 8-4-2 record.

“I think things have gone relatively well so far this season,” Price said after the Canadiens practised on Monday. “I’m trying to continue that trend.”

He has a .914 save percentage and a 2.71 goals-against average, but if the numbers were dramatically better or worse we suspect he’d still say the same thing about them as he did on this day.

“It’s always a work in progress,” Price started. “Nothing’s ever perfect.”

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It can be downright boring talking to Price about these things, but the conversation invariably becomes more interesting when you dissect the process with him. Because the process matters most to him in his pursuit of winning more games than he loses.

At 32 years old, and with the hindsight 12 seasons of NHL experience has provided, Price, who’s the winningest goaltender in Canadiens history, has found what he calls a “recipe” that allows him to do what he’s most driven to do: to perform consistently — and not just in games, but also in workouts, warmups and in practices. It’s become clear to him that success hinges on repetition and routine, and that practice days and game-days should be treated just the same.

It’s why the only thing he does differently in the hours leading up to a game is he takes some time to tape his sticks.

Price isn’t like some other goaltenders who need to seclude themselves before hitting the ice and facing off against the next opponent. He likes to be in the mix — chilling in the room with the other players, and keeping things light — just like he would be on any other day at the rink.

Prior to that, his days all start the same way. Price wakes up at 7:00 a.m., he spends some time with his kids and he gets to the team’s south-shore practice facility by 9:00 a.m.

“We come and skate in the mornings, so I just kind of come in and workout and warm up,” Price said. “I do a short video session with (goaltending coach) Steph (Waite) kind of recapping the game before, and then I warm up and skate. Then I go home and take a quick nap.

“Next I come to the rink and tape my sticks and do some stretching. Then we do our team video, and then I do some more warming up and get ready to go on the ice.”

As he puts it, “It’s nothing out of the ordinary.”

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But it purposely that.

What does Price take out of the video sessions with Waite?

“Just goals against is one thing,” he said. “Things I’m doing well, or some gray areas — situations where I have to make a decision and we just kind of recap those decisions. It’s just nice to get a different perspective on it because things happen quickly out there and you might do somethings subconsciously in the heat of the moment, whether you’re reading something quickly, that you might not have done usually. So it’s nice to get a bird’s eye view of the situation as well.”

The Anahim Lake, B.C., native doesn’t dwell on what he’s seen. He discusses it with Waite, compartmentalizes it and then files it away completely, so he can turn his attention to what comes next.

There are times when that’s harder for him to do. Price said he has trouble sleeping after a game whether he wins or loses. But it’s fair to say losses sometimes keep him up longer, though it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not one comes in a game that’s seen him stand on his head (like the 40-save, 3-2 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers last week) or in one that’s seen him play below the standard everyone knows he’s capable of achieving.

“I think it’s just my competitive nature,” he said.

Parking the losses was something Price struggled with in his early years, shortly after the Canadiens chose him fifth overall in the 2005 NHL Draft.

But it’s with time—and with maturity—that he’s been able to put them away by the next day.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Canadiens coach Claude Julien has noticed. He was here when Price was drafted, but was fired just seven months later. Now in his second go-around with the Canadiens — a stint that began in February of 2017—Julien has seen the difference on how Price deals with everything.

“He’s a totally different person,” Julien started Monday. “He was a kid coming out of junior, and now he’s married with kids. (I’ve noticed) the whole evolution of a person — not just on the ice, but off the ice. Family-wise and everything else, he’s just much more mature, if you want to put it that way. He’s a very focused individual where he takes care of himself, makes sure he’s ready all the time. He’s one of those athletes that really cares about winning, cares about having success, and he does whatever he can. And you just have to think about last year — how much we rode him at the end of the year and the opportunity he gave us to just get a chance at making it to the playoffs. That was a lot of games for him to play without getting much of a break (Note: Price played 22 of Montreal’s last 24 games and suited up in 13 consecutive games before the team was eliminated from post-season contention on the penultimate night of the 2018-19 season). But he took such good care of himself that he was able to do that.”

Price’s teammates marvel at how dedicated he is off the ice.

Canadiens backup Keith Kinkaid said Price works so much on his body and staying loose that he spends most intermissions immersed in a stretching routine. And centre Max Domi said Monday that Price does the workouts the team sets out for him, but also always does his own routine right after.

“I’m in the gym every day,” Price said.

“He works so hard, and he just makes it look easy,” Kinkaid added.

And it’s no secret why Price does it.

“On the world stage, he’s known as probably the best goaltender around, winning the Olympics, World Cups and all that stuff,” Julien said. “And right now he’s got one thing missing and I think he’s going to do whatever he can to help us attain that. He wants one (a Stanley Cup) for himself, he wants one for this city and he wants one for the organization. So that’s where I see Carey Price today, and that’s the guy who won in the American League … He’s won everywhere he’s gone. He’s always been a winner, but not only that, he’s become even more mature an individual that’s really grown into understanding, as he evolves and as he gets older, how to continue to really take care of himself so he remains a champion.”

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