Any observer could be forgiven if the magnitude of Carey Price’s performance during a Hart Trophy-worthy season is starting to get lost in a sea of saves.
That being the case, maybe it’s time to shake things up by talking about Price’s value, not just in the context of his contemporaries, but in terms of him being worth as much to these Montreal Canadiens as Patrick Roy ever was to previous versions of the club.
Comparisons between Price and Roy have been drawn long before it was even remotely fair to do so. Hey, that’s how hyperbole and Montreal work. But the latest impetus to meditate on the two has some merit, as Price passed Roy for fifth place on the Canadiens’ all-time shutout list with a 2-0 whitewash of the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night.
To most, Price earning one more goose egg than Roy doesn’t necessarily make them birds of a feather.
Roy, of course, backstopped Montreal to a pair of championships during his 10-plus seasons in Quebec, earning playoff MVP honours on both occasions. By contrast, Price—now in his eighth year with the club—hadn’t been the starting goalie on a Montreal team that made the NHL’s final four until last spring.
Usurping The Legend of Roy is not something Price figures to do soon, if at all. But that doesn’t change the fact that, right here, right now, Price is about as integral to his team’s success as it’s possible to be.
To have this conversation, you must first shield your eyes from the glow of Roy’s two Cups and focus on the grind that is the regular season.
Price has been a fantastic goalie for a couple of years now, but at age 27, he’s reaching another gear. His .935 save percentage and 1.93 goals-against average this year are tops in their respective categories. That’s despite the fact Montreal surrenders more shots per game than any team currently holding down a playoff spot—and more than a few that aren’t—and is saddled with bottom-third possession numbers.
If the MVP vote was held tomorrow, there’s a good chance Price would be the winner or runner-up. The B.C. boy would also be a slam dunk for the Vezina Trophy—and maybe the Hart, too—if Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne wasn’t also turning in a magical campaign for the only team ahead of Montreal in the league standings.
Compare Price’s present season with Roy’s 1991-92 campaign—likely his best in Montreal—and the overlap is striking. That year, ‘St. Patrick’ led the league with a .914 save percentage and 2.36 GAA, while sharing the league-lead shutout mark with five. It all added up to a Vezina Trophy and second place in MVP balloting.
While examining the numbers is one thing, there something else at play that must be acknowledged when drawing parallels between Montreal’s current superstar and its last generational talent. Roy was an all-timer and richly deserves his prominent place on goaltending’s Mt. Rushmore, but his legend in Montreal is somewhat artificially enhanced by the events of 1993.
The Canadiens famously won 10 overtime games en route to a Cup triumph that spring, leading some to conclude they were a freakishly fortuitous team with a heavily fortified crease. While both of those things carry large elements of truth, it gets problematic when that dynamic is extrapolated to Roy’s entire time with the Habs. The narrative then becomes he was the only thing saving an average team from oblivion, and that’s just not the case.
Don’t forget, the Canadiens still had some residue from their dynastic teams of the late 1970s when they won the Cup in 1986, Roy’s rookie season. The core of that club also went to the final in 1989 after piling up 115 points in the regular season.
Keep connecting the dots and you’ll see a chunk of that team was still intact in 1993, when Roy won his second Cup. And that championship-winning squad might have been a bit more formidable than people realize, given it held a share of the overall standings lead as late as mid-March before enduring a late-season swoon.
All that is to say, Roy was a fantastic goalie, but he wasn’t the lone force for good during his time in Montreal. And if you’re examining Price’s worth at this moment in time, he’s carrying as much water as Roy was ever saddled with.
Naturally, that’s not enough to quench the thirst of Price, his teammates or the fans of a franchise desperate for its first title since No. 33 was in the crease, not the rafters. If the present-day saviour can deliver that, we can re-visit this already-worthy comparison on a much grander scale.