Carey Price has endured more than a handful mentally taxing moments in his seven-plus seasons as Montreal Canadiens goaltender.
There was the on-again, off-again Jaroslav Halak saga; there was the Chris Kreider injury in last year’s playoffs; there’s been a lot of pressure placed on the Vancouver native’s back to bring a Stanley Cup back to Montreal — which is on year 22 of the lengthiest Cup drought ever.
So when you hear Price say he’s having fun, it’s a welcome surprise.
“It’s just fun coming to the rink,” Price said after the club’s 4-2 win Friday in New Jersey. “We’ve got very good chemistry in the locker room. We enjoy each other’s company — I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in one season before. It really makes coming to the rink easy, and it brings the team closer.”
But it’s also easy for those in Montreal to be enjoying themselves this time of the year.
The Canadiens are, rather quietly, the Eastern Conference’s best team. They share the same number of points as the Tampa Bay Lightning but by virtue of Montreal’s two fewer games played, it currently holds the top spot in the East and only trails the Anaheim Ducks in the Presidents’ Trophy race.
Montreal’s won nine of 10 and six in a row, five of which have come on the road as the Habs have been exiled from Centre Bell by the World Junior Championship tournament. Montreal is now 13-7-1 away from home, and its 13 wins is most in the East.
“We’re doing a lot of things well,” defenseman P.K. Subban told reporters after practice Monday. “Our focus is there for the most part. When you’re fatigued and you’re away from home and maybe you’re battling some sickness and some injury, I think focusing on the details and the important things that are going to help you win makes the difference.”
It’s not only that the Canadiens are banking points, it’s that they’re doing so with a different hero most every night. Some nights, like Saturday in Pittsburgh, it’ll be a superstar like Max Pacioretty who chips in a two-point night, including a goal. Other games, like Friday in New Jersey, a fourth-liner like Michael Bournival — who hadn’t scored in a game in nearly nine months — will chip in a pair of markers.
Last Tuesday in Florida, backup goalie Dustin Tokarski even entered the hero fold, stopping 37 of 38 in a shootout win over the Panthers.
“I get a lot of credit for the success that the team gets,” Price told reporters Monday, “but in reality, it’s a collective effort.”
The roller coaster is constantly up and down for Les Bleu, Blanc et Rouge, and this fall was no different. Between Nov 6. 18 and Dec. 6, the Habs went 3-6-1 — getting shut out twice and being swept in a home-and-home with Buffalo. Montreal had dipped to third place in the Atlantic Division behind Tampa Bay and Detroit.
But Michel Therrien mixed up his lines, moving Alex Galchenyuk to center for the first time in his NHL career, playing in the middle of Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. David Desharnais was put on Tomas Plekanec‘s line with P.A. Parenteau — Desharnais usually centered the Pacioretty-Gallagher duo.
Pacioretty has taken off, registering 10 points (four goals, six assists) in those 10 games. Usually a sniper, Pacioretty had the primary assist on all three of Galchenyuk’s goals in a Dec. 16 rout of the Hurricanes, and with a couple of dangerous scoring lines, the Habs have gone 9-1 since the line alterations.
Parenteau, the first-year Canadien who was run out of Colorado by Patrick Roy, has not scored in 15 game but has still managed to aid the Canadiens with four shootout goals — all of which have been game-deciding tallies. Still, Parenteau was injured Friday in New Jersey — the club hasn’t released details of the injury — and missed Monday’s contest in Pittsburgh.
Such ailments threaten to derail such a hot team. But, with a seasoned club — let’s not forget they were two wins from the Stanley Cup final a season ago — and a talented one, there’s cause for confidence in Montreal.
“When you’re winning, the atmosphere is fantastic,” Therrien told reporters Monday. “Guys really like to be with each other. They got a good work ethic … as a coach, I’m really pleased about their work ethic and commitment to the game.”
Look out, NHL fans. Because when the Habs are good, it starts getting stuffy.