Price laid foundation for season by mining gold in Sochi
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (right) receives congratulations from teammate Brandon Prust after a win over the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)
It rests in his gun-safe at home, a shiny circular slab that contains six grams of gold.
It’s a good place for it. Carey Price, after all, doesn’t really pull out his gold medal from Sochi that much. You could probably count the number of times he has done it on one hand.
But 13 months after Winter Games officials first hung it around his neck after he helped Canada win the Olympic title capped by a championship game victory over Sweden, the influence of that prized bauble has helped Price reach an elite level that he had never been at before.
From the moment he stepped foot back on Canadian soil from Russia, the magic of that gold medal could be sensed by his Montreal Canadiens coaches and teammates alike. Already considered among one of the top goaltenders on the planet, there was a new aura accompanying the Habs No. 31, a quiet swagger normally associated with those select few individuals who feel they are the best at what they do — and usually are.
“That was the start,” agreed Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, noting how Price has elevated his game since returning from Sochi.
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“He had a really good season last year. But we have to remember: He was CHOSEN for the Olympic team. He was CHOSEN to be the starting goalie for Team Canada. And he came back with such confidence. Confidence that comes from being successful and being surrounded by winners.
“It wasn’t just about the winning, it was also about learning about being a leader. He learned how to be a leader. And he’s really been a leader for us. What he learned last year, he brought to us.
“He’s certainly been a leader for us this year. We’re the ones who have benefited from all that experience he picked up.”
The numbers back up Therrien’s claim.
From the moment he first put on his Habs jersey in the post-Sochi era, Price has simply been the top puckstopper in the world, going 60-23-6, dating back to March 14, 2014. Those figures include a playoff run last spring that saw him carry the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference final only to have his season end prematurely with an injured knee.
With the mission to win Olympic gold having been achieved, Price’s sights now turn to follow the likes of Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden and Jacques Plante, Habs greats of yesteryear who all have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup.
Buoyed by a newfound sense of hockey invincibility — or as close to one as you can get — Price admits that he has been a different goalie since his memorable Sochi experience.
“It’s definitely a case where if you have a medal around your neck, it tends to be a confidence builder,” Price said during a one-on-one interview this past weekend. “But, really, when you look at it, we’ve really played well defensively the past couple of seasons. It’s really helped my game a lot.”
Maybe. But in the opinion of Habs forward Brendan Gallagher, Price is being far too modest.
“I think obviously he’s been a very good goalie, obviously he’s always been very good for us,” Gallagher said. “But when you’ve been through an electric experience like that, playing against the best players in the world and coming home with a gold medal, your confidence is only going to get higher.
“The year he’s had is pretty special and hopefully he can continue to make it a memorable one.”
From a statistical point of view, it already has been. With a dominating 44-16-6 record and microscopic 1.96 goals-against average in 2014-15, he is the favourite to win both the Hart Trophy as league MVP and Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie.
A week ago, when Price eclipsed the Habs record for single season wins of 42 that previously had been held by Plante and Dryden, he was greeted by a shaving cream pie to the face courtesy of teammate Alexei Emelin. Admitting “it didn’t taste too good,” Price told fellow Habs goalie that he would have preferred “mustard.”
Here’s something that tastes much better: Champagne out of the Stanley Cup.
Price’s Habs are 16 wins away from that scenario playing out. And a first-round date against the sizzling Ottawa Senators and rookie goalie Andrew (The Hamburglar) Hammond certainly makes it a formidable task.
Then again, once you’ve won an Olympic gold medal, you have the confidence that you can conquer the hockey world.
PRICE’S NUMBERS WERE MORE THAN RIGHT
The Price definitely was right for the Montreal Canadiens this season.
In what was a record season for the Habs goaltender, Carey Price led the NHL in wins (44), goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.933), becoming the first goalie to top the league in all three categories since Ed Belfour accomplished that feat with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1990-91 (43 W, 2.47 GAA, .910 SV%).
In doing so, Price surpassed a 59-year-old franchise record for wins in one season. Jacques Plante set the former mark of 42 in 1955-56 and again equaled the number in 1961-62. Ken Dryden also reached the milestone in 1975-76.
Price’s save percentage was the third-highest in a single season since the NHL began tracking the stat in 1976-77 (minimum: 40 GP):
Highest single-season save percentage, since 1976-77
1. Tim Thomas (2010-11 w/ BOS): .938 SV% (57 GP)
2. Dominik Hasek (1998-99 w/ BUF): .937 SV% (64 GP)
3. Carey Price (2014-15 w/ MTL): .933 SV% (66 GP)
4. Dwayne Roloson (2003-04 w/ MIN): .933 SV% (48 GP)
5. Tim Thomas (2008-09 w/ BOS): .933 SV% (54 GP)
Price also set a career high with nine shutouts, the most by a Canadiens goaltender since 1976-77 (Dryden: 10).