MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room opened following their 2-0 win over the Calgary Flames on Monday and goal scorers Ryan Poehling and Jordan Weal stood by their lockers waiting for the media onslaught.
Nearby, Carey Price was neatly filing his gear away in his bag after being named the third star in a game that saw him make 31 saves and record the 46th shutout of his career to tie Ken Dryden for third place on the all-time Canadiens list. He was basically an afterthought for most people in the building who saw the home team jump out to a 17-7 shot advantage in the first period and a 32-16 advantage through 40 minutes. And had it not been for him hitting that milestone, we’re not sure he’d have been in high demand in the room, either.
Never mind that the 32-year-old had stopped three 2-on-1 chances, three half breakaways and a couple of dangerous tips from the high slot before the second period had ended. And yeah, there was a vocal-minority chanting “Carey! Carey! Carey!” halfway through a third period that saw Price turn 15 shots away, but that wasn’t the big story when those silver-coloured doors to the Canadiens room slid open.
There was Weal, the 27-year-old who was scratched from the team’s 2-1 overtime win over the Senators in Ottawa on Saturday. If he hadn’t put the puck in to help the Canadiens earn a lead in what has to be considered their best period of play in well over a month, who knows how this would have ended?
And if it wasn’t for Poehling, the 21-year-old rookie who scored his first goal of the season to give Montreal a precious two-goal cushion at 9:45 of the third, things might have been different.
But he did, and as Flames head coach Geoff Ward put it after the game: “We got out-battled, out-raced, out-competed, out-worked right from the opening faceoff. It took us a long time to start to try to claw our way back into the hockey game.”
If the Flames had any chance to do so at all, it was thanks to goaltender David Rittich. So the Canadiens certainly deserved credit for the way they played.
As for Price, he wasn’t the main focus on Saturday, either, after he made 41 saves against Ottawa to help the Canadiens earn their first win since Dec. 23. That honour belonged to Ilya Kovalchuk, who notched his first goal in uniform in dramatic fashion to end the game. And there will be little said about Price’s performance against the Flames outside of the 900-odd words or so we’re putting down in this space.
But there was plenty of noise about his play when things were going bad for the team. A lot of it was justified—probably more so during the November skid than over this most recent one that saw the Canadiens drop eight-straight games by a goal (technically, two of those games were by two thanks to empty-netters for the opposition).
And it wasn’t just about Price’s play. His comments following a 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets a week ago, saying he was “beyond frustrated,” were interpreted by some to mean that he just doesn’t care anymore. His body language on the ice was dissected so frequently on Twitter you’d have thought most Canadiens fans had taken decoding courses from the FBI.
The team’s 19-year-old centre, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, noticed.
“Oh yeah!” he said when asked about whether or not he was aware of how much blame Price takes on when the Canadiens lose.
Kotkaniemi also shared some insight on what the quiet man in the crease was like behind closed doors while the storm intensified outside over the last three weeks.
“He’s not stressing so much,” the kid started. “You know how he’s so calm, and whenever he talked he said smart things and (was) kind of trying to help the boys out.”
Poehling said Price’s demeanour set a lead for him and the other young, inexperienced members of the Canadiens to follow.
“No matter what the outcome is, Carey shows that if you just keep playing your game and stick with it, things will start going your way,” he said. “He’s a quiet leader, but the way he keeps to himself and focuses on his process gives us an opportunity to dig out of situations like that. He gives us a chance to win every night.”
There have been some games this year where that just hasn’t been the case. But there haven’t been nearly as many as some have suggested.
Still, Price—as the highest-paid goaltender in the NHL and the highest-paid player on the Canadiens—has to live with that scrutiny.
Dale Weise, who assisted on Weal’s goal, said he’s seen growth from Price in that department since his first stint with the Canadiens from 2013-2016.
“He’s got that positive attitude, he’s huge in this locker room,” said the right winger who returned to the Canadiens via trade with the Philadelphia Flyers last season.
“You see his attitude; he doesn’t waiver, he doesn’t point fingers, he takes blame on himself,” Weise continued. “I think that’s huge. You guys don’t get to see a lot of his personality. I think you can see he’s opening up as the years go on here—just from my time before to now. He’s a little looser. He’s always had that comedy about him that he makes guys laugh. He keeps things loose in tense situations.
“The whole world could be dumping on him outside and you would never know. He’s positive every day, he works hard, and his attitude’s contagious in this locker room.”
We’re certain that assessment means something to Price.
The few cheers he heard in the Bell Centre on Monday meant something to him, too.
“It’s always nice to have that support, and I always really appreciate it,” Price said.
Maybe he doesn’t need the credit after a win like the one the Canadiens earned on Monday, but he deserves plenty of it.