The Engels Angle: Price Redeemed, What's Next?
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price autographs souveniers at the end of season media availability Thursday, April 28, 2011 in Brossard, Que., after losing their NHL Stanley Cup playoff first round series to the Boston Bruins in seven gamesl.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
By Eric Engels
Published Wednesday, May 18, 2011 11:43AM EDT
MONTREAL - A glance at the NHL stat-sheet indicates that Carey Price's .934 save percentage and 2.11 goals against average remain as the best numbers posted by a goalie in this year's playoffs. Consider it another one of his remarkable accomplishments in his quest for redemption.
And what a redemption it was. Price's struggles over the two seasons that preceded this one were well documented. Things got so bad for him during that stint that he admitted to having lost passion for the game.
Up until his struggles, everything seemed to come easy to him. Here was an 18-year old kid who after a strong final season in Tri-City of the Western Hockey League made his way to Hamilton, immediately dethroned the starting goalie there, and ultimately succeeded in bringing the Bulldogs an AHL Championship.
He fulfilled his promise as the team's first selection of the 2005 draft (5th overall) immediately, and gave the Canadiens a clear indication that at 19 he was prepared for bigger things.
The 2007-08 version of the Canadiens took shocked the league. Most had predicted the team wasn't worthy of a spot in the playoffs, and those who felt they were worthy certainly didn't envision a division title or a conference crown.
But after the Canadiens parted ways with Cristobal Huet in February of that season, Price put the team on his shoulders, enabling them to accomplish the impossible. He closed out the season by winning his final seven games, over which the Canadiens clinched the division and the conference thereafter.
Plagued by injuries in 2007, 2008
Price forged his way past Boston in his first ever playoff series, highlighted by shutouts in games four and seven.
He had won three of his first four decisions in that series and dropped two in a row to allow the Bruins to come back from a 3-1 deficit. That he closed things out was a very promising sign of things to come.
Unfortunately, he met his maker soon after in a series against the Philadelphia Flyers that exposed an issue Price was having with his injured glove hand.
After a strong start to the 2008-09 campaign, Price injured his ankle and his game completely fell by the wayside thereafter. For whatever reason, over the final half of that season and the next one to follow, he just couldn't regain the swagger he had taken the league by storm with upon his arrival.
He couldn't grasp how hard he'd have to work to regain his stride, if only for the fact that he had never had to work to that level before to enjoy success.
He had gotten by on the tremendous amount of raw talent he possessed, and the amount of early career success he enjoyed blurred his concept of how professional you have to be in order to consistently be successful at this level.
Finally forced to work to prove himself
His dedication to work habits that he had previously not established gave him a confidence that had naturally fallen with his performance.
His redemption in the spring of 2010--while his counterpart Jaroslav Halak completely stole his thunder on the ice--was based on his commitment to off-ice conditioning and his drive to practice harder than he ever had.
Given what Halak was doing for the Canadiens--bringing them further in the playoffs than they had been since 1993--it was reason enough to turn their back on Price and move on with another promising young netminder who had proven to be nearly indispensable. But the Canadiens held true to their plan.
They had seen enough from Price to know that he still held the keys to their future, and they placed their faith in him despite his struggles because they knew what he possessed and they knew that he had been re-inspired.
The Canadiens' faith in Price emboldened his willingness push even harder. That faith came with a tremendous burden of unimaginable pressure, which many believed he would succumb to.
It seemed it would undo him by the time this year's pre-season got under way.
Thirty minutes into his first game this season, Price was mercilessly booed by those who longed for Halak; those who couldn't possible be aware of how hard he had worked to regain the opportunity the Canadiens gave him.
He'd have been justified to completely lose his composure at that point. In fact, people expected him to.
Instead he showed the character that made him so attractive to the Canadiens in the first place.
Regained his teenage attitude
Too many times throughout his struggles Price had exhibited despair--a trait that had never exhibited itself before in his case.
He came to the Canadiens as a cool and collected teenager who seemed unphased by the pressure that accompanied his position, and the first sign that he was back in that mode was his reaction to the booing he faced that night.
"Chill out," Price urged.
And then he played 72 games in the regular season, won 38 of them, collecting another six points for the team in extra time.
His 38 wins were the most of any goalie this season. He finished with the 7th-best save percentage and the 10th best goals-against average, and he managed eight shutouts after only recording one over the previous two seasons.
That he wasn't nominated for a Vezina or Hart trophy doesn't diminish his accomplishments, which most have acknowledged are among the most impressive of any player in the league this season.
Perhaps a win over the Bruins would've put this story over the edge, but Price's performance--as the numbers indicate--was beyond reproach.
Can't return to complacency
And now, as the Canadiens move forward with what should be an improved club, expectations will once again be greater for Price. He set the bar as high as he possibly could. And we'll have to wait and see how he treats this new challenge.
Price's experience must dictate his commitment to ensuring he doesn't regress in any capacity moving forward. It would be understandable if complacency reared it's ugly head, but you would hope that Price has learned his lesson in that regard.
If he has, he's entering the prime of his career on a team that as I suggested above should be much improved.
At 23, he's played 206 NHL games and another 26 in the playoffs. His future seems brighter by the day. It's promising enough to believe he can be a Stanley Cup winning goaltender.
One has to wonder how close he is to making that a reality.