Carey Price catches Hainsworth on Habs’ victory list
MONTREAL — It was 45 minutes after Thursday’s entirely surreal 5-4 Canadiens overtime victory against the Ottawa Senators when I tweeted two photographs joined as one:
Habs netminder Carey Price, shot in practice last season by The Gazette’s Allen McInnis, appeared to be looking pensively over his right shoulder to a digitally attached 1920s Rice Studio portrait of wool-capped goaler George Hainsworth.
With 40 saves Thursday, a dozen or more of them certain goals on many other nights, Price earned his 167th career victory, bringing him alongside Hainsworth at No. 6 on the Canadiens’ all-time list of regular-season Habs wins by a goaltender.
It was 11 p.m. Thursday, Price on the team bus headed to the team’s charter flight that soon would lift off for Toronto, when I flipped the photos to his iPhone for his amusement.
“I’m just glad I don’t have to wear that equipment,” he cracked in reply, having looked at the battered almost-cricket pads and elbow-high gloves Hainsworth wore during his 318 games between 1926-33, returning to Montreal for two final Habs matches in 1936-37.
Side by side, both Price and Hainsworth wore CH jerseys and held their sticks in their right hands, and that is where the similarities seemed to end.
Well, not exactly.
No matter how well he stopped the puck, Hainsworth was often criticized for his lack of an obvious fire, far removed from the flamboyant, emotional, even tortured netminders of the day.
“I’m sorry I can’t put on a show like some of the other goaltenders,” Hainsworth said in the late 1920s, quoted in several books on the history of goaltending.
“I can’t look excited because I’m not. I can’t shout at other players because that’s not my style. I can’t dive on easy shots and make them look hard. I guess all I can do is stop pucks.”
The NHL’s first goalie captain when so named by the Habs in 1932-33, Hainsworth was “almost mechanical in his perfection,” according to a news report.
Price was part robot, part alien and part artist Thursday, filling a highlight reel by his lonesome. That he was named only second star by Ottawa’s TSN radio station — first was Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson, whose goal and two assists still paled in comparison — showed what an exercise in homerism the three-star selections can be.
But if the superlatives about Price’s work flowed in the Canadiens dressing room from his coach and teammates — “The guys were pretty pumped up after that one,” the goalie said Friday — so too did praise come from down the hall.
“We’re not pleased we didn’t win but at the same time we have to tip our hat to their goaltender, who kept the game close,” Senators coach Paul MacLean said.
“Carey obviously had a great second period,” said Ottawa forward Clarke MacArthur. “It could have been six or seven unanswered (goals) there. He did a great job.”
Added winger Bobby Ryan: “(Price) was the difference, right? That game could have been a much different game going into the third if it wasn’t for him. He made three, four, maybe five 10-bellers right in a row.”
Referees were in fact using bells before whistles in the playground days of Hainsworth, who would become the second great goaler in Canadiens history. If Price was underwhelmed Thursday by the paper-thin pads on the 5-foot-6, 150-pound native of Toronto, he would think likewise of the similar gear worn by George’s predecessor, NHL pioneer Georges Vézina, the Canadiens icon who now sits just eight wins ahead at No. 5 on the list.
Easily within reach at No. 4 is Bill Durnan, whose 208 wins seem certain to be passed next season, with Ken Dryden’s 258 and Patrick Roy’s 289 ranking third and second.
You cannot compare Price’s victories to those of the team’s 1920s stars, nor Durnan of the ’40s, Dryden of the ’70s or Roy, who spanned the 1980s and ’90s.
And you certainly cannot compare Price’s record to that of Jacques Plante, No. 1 on the club list with 314 victories from 1952-63.
But at 26, with four more seasons remaining on his current contract, Price is more than halfway to Plante, who backstopped six championships teams. Five of the quirky legend’s Stanley Cups were won anchoring the Canadiens’ 1956-60 dynasty.
On Twitter Thursday night, Habs fan Yves Giroux noted that Price will be the first Canadiens goalie to pass Vézina on the team list without in fact having won a Vézina Trophy, the award created upon the legend’s 1926 death to recognize the NHL’s best goalie (since 1981-82 based on a GM vote, not pure statistics).
In the Bell Centre dressing room, almost directly across from Price’s stall, is the Hall of Fame portrait of Vézina, making eye contact any time he looks across and gazes up. Eight portraits to the left is Hainsworth, down four more is Durnan.
Above Price’s head is Roy, with Dryden and Plante five and eight stalls along, on his glove side.
There is no escaping history when you play goal for the Canadiens, not that Price has run from it. He is familiar with all of the names of the men who have preceded him into the Habs net, and now the ones he hears of mostly are the true greats into whose neighbourhood, in a few statistical categories, he is playing.
“You’re aware of what guys have accomplished before you,” Price said Friday. “But my goals are so short-term that I try not to pay too much attention to it.”
Late Friday afternoon, he had yet to see any highlights of what arguably was his most sensational performance as a pro, the 28th time in his career he has faced 40 or more shots. He expected to review Senators tape Saturday morning with goalie coach Stéphane Waite to fine tune for his start a few hours later against the Maple Leafs.
“To be honest, I tend to have a short memory, whether it’s a good or bad game,” Price said. “By the time I got to the rink (Friday), it was all about getting prepared for (Saturday).”
His next win will bring him to within seven of Vézina, a goaltending cornerstone then, now and forever.
“I’ve played with a lot of good teams,” Price said, another milestone soon at hand. “I’ve got to give them a lot of credit for getting me this many wins.”
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