Canadiens’ Carey Price hopes for consistent season
Goaltender is adjusting to smaller pads and new coach
MONTREAL — You could play connect-the-dots on the shins and calves of Carey Price and we’re only 10 days into training camp, a week from the start of the regular season.
“They’re old wounds,” Price joked of the welts Monday night, having turned aside 19 New Jersey Devils shots in the Canadiens’ 3-2 Bell Centre win.
The scars, he suggested, were not from the heinously hard, cruelly invented orange ball that 2014 Olympic head coach Mike Babcock had his prospects swatting around last month in Calgary at a Sochi orientation camp.
So they’re probably the souvenirs of pucks, their concussive force leaving calling cards through his pads.
Long gone is any pain that created those purple blotches, a discomfort that probably paled in comparison to that which he felt in practice Sunday when he was drilled by a puck mid-body, somewhere between the waist and upper thighs.
An hour earlier Monday, Price had seen teammate Brendan Gallagher skate off the ice folded in half and singing an octave higher, having been slashed, without a penalty called, in the same nether regions.
“I know exactly how that feels,” the goalie said, laughing. “I’m wearing two (protective) cups now.”
Monday’s complete-game victory continued Price’s steady road toward the regular season, which opens at home next Tuesday against Toronto. It was his second consecutive 60-minute appearance, following the 29:06 he played against Boston on Sept. 16, giving him a save percentage of .886 to this point in the preseason.
“It’s starting to feel a lot better,” Price said Monday of the progress he’s making. “It’s a lot different than playing shinny hockey in the summertime.
“You start cheating a little bit playing shinny. When it comes to the NHL, you’ve got to be precise because anyone can throw a puck at the net any time out there. …
“I’m starting to feel pretty good. Another (preseason) game would be ideal.”
That is action Price is certain to get with dates against Ottawa Wednesday in Kanata and Thursday at home closing out the preseason, and just himself and backup Peter Budaj still in camp.
This isn’t a conventional training camp for Price, who’s entering his seventh season in Montreal. The 26-year-old is building a foundation with new goaltending coach Stéphane Waite while adjusting to smaller pads legislated by the league and getting the feel of a shallower net, which threatens more wraparound opportunities and creates different rebound angles off the boards.
With Waite, Price is now working with a coach who has two Stanley Cups on his resumé, won with Chicago in 2010 and again this past spring.
“Things are progressing well between us, the relationship is growing,” Price said of Waite. “He’s got a great reputation and he’s obviously got a lot of experience with top-notch goaltenders. I can take a lot of that from him.”
Waite is on record as saying he wants to build on the strengths of Price and Budaj, not tear them down and rebuild them from their skatelaces.
“We’re not changing much,” Price said. “We’re simplifying things, trying not to get too out of control. Sometimes, goaltenders think that athleticism is good, that you’ve got to overcompensate and show your athleticism.
“But a lot of the really good goaltenders are compact. They don’t make a lot of unnecessary movements. It puts you in a better position for bad bounces.”
Price has long believed that his best games are those when he’s not making the sensational save, the product of the rapier-like reflexes to which the late broadcast legend Danny Gallivan would refer.
“When you’re playing really well, you don’t want to make a whole lot of flashy saves or even be noticed,” Price said. “When everything’s hitting you in the chest, you know you’re doing good.”
The goalie’s subpar 2012-13 season, ending in the playoffs with a knee injury, is no longer on his radar.
“I’m not going to dwell on last season a whole lot, it’s not going to help you,” he explained, saying he doesn’t view the coming year as a chance for redemption.
All the same, he knows how much of this season’s Canadiens rests on his shoulders.
Wins and losses, he said, will be the sole way to judge his success. Not save percentage, not shutouts, not goals-against average.
“Wins and losses are the only way you can measure (success),” Price said. “And consistency. Usually, top-end Vézina Trophy winners have a very consistent season. That’s what I’m looking for this year.”
Like every goalie, he’s having to tweak his style a little with pads shortened a couple inches at the top by the league to open a bit of the five-hole when netminders drop into their butterfly.
“I find when I’m along the posts, everything’s a little easier,” Price said. “Everything doesn’t overlap that much. My pants don’t get caught on my pads.”
Still, the Devils’ second goal Monday, a seeing-eye slapper from the point, might not have threaded its way through his five-hole with the longer pads.
And Price might have had the visitors’ first, scored by twice-former Canadien Michael Ryder, had he been a knuckleball catcher, the puck floating high before it rolled down his back into the net.
“Head-butting,” he joked of a possible means to stop that one.
Both bullets and butterflies will elude Price this season. But the frequency of them is slimming in the final week of training camp, the final few days all about fine-tuning and sharpening focus and paying attention to the smallest details.
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