Canadiens goalies: Price inching closer, Allen calling it as he sees it

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price stands in the crease during the second period of Game 2 of the team's NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Phelan M. Ebenhack, File/AP)

BROSSARD, Que. — Let’s get the news out of the way, since there’s a fair bit of it coming off an eight-day break and following the first practice the Montreal Canadiens held in 2022.

We thought Carey Price might be on the ice, either with his teammates or before or after them, but he wasn’t.

The franchise goaltender, who’s still recovering from off-season surgery (a process that was halted for a month when he checked into the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program on Oct. 7), was at the facility, meeting with trainers. He still has a meeting pending with the surgeon who fixed his knee in the third week of July.

Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme said that meeting is imminent and that it will be attended by Price, the surgeon and team doctors and trainers.

The coach said Price could still get on the ice before that meeting happens and added that next steps would be for him to do so, then ramp up his work with goaltending coach Eric Raymond, and eventually join the team for practice.

But until that happens, people will continue to wonder if the 34-year-old will actually play games this season.

“No one has told me that Carey doesn’t have a chance of playing this year,” said Ducharme. “We talked about the steps he needs to go through. It’s certain that with the time we lost that we couldn’t even be in this building. That was time for treatment, time for practice that he and other players didn’t have.”

So, the process continues to drag.

The processes for injured players Josh Anderson, Joel Armia, Christian Dvorak and Mike Hoffman seem to be moving along better. Ducharme said all four are considered day-to-day, and he didn’t rule out the possibility of them returning on the coming road trip.

“Are they going to play the first game in Boston (Wednesday)? We can’t say yet,” Ducharme said. “But we can say that the four guys are getting closer to a return.”

That’s particularly good news for Anderson, who was expected to miss eight weeks after suffering an upper-body injury on Dec. 2.

Less good news: Paul Byron still has a bit of time to spend on the COVID-protocol list before making his long-anticipated season debut.

Byron was a game or two away from returning from off-season hip surgery when an exposure to COVID forced him to return home from Tampa Bay to his family on Dec. 28. At some point between then and now, he tested positive for the virus, making him unavailable to participate in Sunday’s practice.

Brendan Gallagher, day-to-day with a lower-body injury suffered in Carolina on Dec. 30, was also absent. As were Jeff Petry, Cayden Primeau, Gianni Fairbrother, Brandon Baddock, Louie Belpedio, Alex Romanov and Jake Evans, who were all placed in COVID protocol before the Canadiens returned home from Florida on Jan. 1.

Most of those players will remain in the United States due to Canadian border restrictions. They’re scheduled to meet the Canadiens in Boston this week.

Lastly, following the passing of his father, Bob, Joel Edmundson is home in Brandon, Man.

'Win or loss doesn’t matter at this point.'

I’d say it was refreshing, but it was actually just more of the same from Jake Allen.

The Canadiens’ goaltender has a penchant for speaking his mind, for being honest and not leaning on platitudes and clichés to express his opinion. He’s a straight, unflinching shooter, and he’s been this way since he arrived in this city. He’s probably always been this way.

I haven’t come across many hockey players who are. So, I wasn’t surprised that when Allen was asked what the objective should be for his second-to-last-placed team, he said what most in his place probably wouldn’t have.

“We all know where we are in the standings at this point, and we’ve got to look at it from a realistic standpoint,” the 31-year-old started. “What are we trying to do here? We need to instill some habits back into our game, we need to move on the right step forward. I think that’s going to be the biggest key for me in this second half is trying to preach that we need to try to build something here for these young guys we have so that later on this season, when we’re playing these good teams and we’re moving to next year, we’re building something.

“We need to take things out of this season that are going to be positive, that are going to help this team and this organization next year ... ”

And then Allen said, “Win or loss doesn’t matter at this point.”

This is my 15th season covering the Canadiens; I’ve followed the team’s exploits for 35 of my 39 years on this planet, and I can say with certainty I’ve never heard any of their players speak this way with close to 60 per cent of their season still to be played.

That it came from Allen was even more meaningful. Less than three years removed from winning the Stanley Cup with a St. Louis Blues team that ranked dead last in the standings in January 2019, he still said all of this.

That Blues team had also already played 37 games before turning it around, and the Canadiens team Allen is on now has played only 34.

But he knows this team isn’t that team. And even if Allen’s teammates may not tell it quite like he did on Sunday, he basically said they know too.

“I think everyone understands it. I think we just gotta look at the realistic picture. I think that’s the biggest thing right now,” Allen said. “We can’t kid ourselves or fool ourselves with where we are and how we get there ...

“But, at the same time, we have to look ourselves in the mirror. What do we want to accomplish out of this? What habits and what traits do we want to be known (for) as a team here – especially moving into the next season? All of us are in different spots in our careers and came from different places and stuff like that, but you still have a lot of pride in wearing this sweater.

“I think that’s the biggest thing moving into the next year and to the end of this season. And we still have, I don’t know exactly, maybe 48-50 games left? That’s a ton of time to build something really good here, especially with these young core guys that we have. The opportunity’s still there right now, and I think that’s the biggest thing. Some of the guys are getting a chance right now because some of the older guys are out of the lineup, and they’re making the most of that chance. They might get more of a shot later in the season.

“Build, build, build, and I think we have to find a way to look at the realistic picture. What do we want to take out of it this year? How do we want to do it? And win, lose or draw, like I said, it doesn’t matter at this point. It’s about building our game and building something here that’s going to turn into something good in the next one, two or three years.”

That’s exactly what it is about, and good for Allen for telling it straight like he always does.

'It’s time for the Canadiens to get with the times.'

You’d have an easier time discovering a comet than finding someone who’s opposed to Chantal Machabee taking over as the new vice-president of communications for the Canadiens.

She’s universally adored. By fans, by the many journalists who have worked alongside her throughout her groundbreaking career, and also by the players.

“It’s obviously huge to have Chantal on our team now,” said Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin. “She has so much experience with media stuff. She’s one of the first women to do it back then. It’s huge to have her. She has great energy. She’s positive. I think the Canadiens did a really good move in bringing her in for the PR staff.”

I do, too.

For too long, the Canadiens have been operating like the Kremlin, going out of their way to stop leaks and often getting in their own way to do it. They’ve restricted access to the best of their ability, made it beyond challenging for the media to tell meaningful stories, and they’ve unintentionally made the lives of their players harder because of it.

Machabee, who spent the last 32 years at RDS – the majority of them on the Canadiens’ beat – knows this, and she’s dead set on changing it.

“I want to get the media and the Canadiens closer,” she told me last week. “I think this is really important to do, because being a media member for 38 years, I know that it was very difficult. I’ve heard everything in the press box, and have often heard journalists say, ‘If only they knew how much we hated them.’

“That’s awful, and it’s because of how they’ve been treated. We need to work together. Media needs the Habs, and the Habs need the media because I want people to know there’s heroes on that team. I want the fans to know the players better. I want the fans to realize that those players are not numbers and not statistics; they’re human beings with ups and downs, they’re the best in the world, and they have great personalities. They’re generous, too. They do stuff that people don’t know about, and I want to humanize them, and I know the media needs access to be able to do it.

“We love the old-timers because they were close to the fans, they were close to the media. They were giving one-on-ones and we were doing human interest stories on them, and we don’t see that anymore. That’s too bad.”

She continued.

“I was part of this, and I know how frustrating it is when you need to work and don’t have access to stories,” Machabee said. “You want to work properly, and you can’t because you can’t talk to the players, you can’t see them. It’s an important issue for me. I want to change it, and so does (Canadiens owner) Geoff Molson. We want to change the philosophy because it’s a different era. We’re in the social media era, where the players are giving more of themselves, and it’s time for the Canadiens to get with the times. Geoff Molson knows that and wants to work on that with me.”

It’s going to be an enormous undertaking for Machabee, and she knows at least one part of it will be particularly challenging – she’s going to have to disappoint all of us from time to time, and she’s not used to disappointing anyone.

But Machabee is uniquely positioned to deal with her biggest challenge – humanizing media members to players who have been trained to treat them like the enemy.

“I’m going to talk to them about you guys,” she said. “I know every one of you, but with so many new faces on the team and with Zoom being the only communication, they don’t. And I’m only talking about the people on the beat, who are at every practice and travel. I’m not talking about the others who are just talking about the Habs but never go to the Bell Centre or practice or on the road. I want the players to have confidence in the beat reporters who are there every day because they see you and know you, and I can help them know you.

“Changing the approach and the culture is not going to happen overnight. And obviously, it’s impossible with the pandemic. It’ll take time but we’ll arrive. And the new GM is going to help me on that. They’re going to work with me. Geoff Molson wants that, and I’m sure they’re going to choose a GM that’s open about this. It’s important for Geoff, (senior VP of Groupe CH) France (Margaret Belanger) and the whole organization. If the GM talks to the players and tells them we have a new mentality, that the media is not the enemy, they’re always with us and there for you, things will change.”

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