As far as making statements go, Carey Price's seemed pretty emphatic. It just wasn't planned that way.
See making a big deal of things just isn't the style of the 23-year-old from a small town in British Columbia, which is probably wise for someone who has had his fair share of challenges adapting to the big city and the white-hot spotlight of hockey's most intense market. Price, though, has managed to shrug it all off, at least in public, not an easy task given the way Montreal Canadiens fans rode their young goaltender for the last couple of years.
"It's all blocked out," Price says. "The only thing that matters is the guys on the club."
No doubt the feeling these days is mutual these days. Especially since Price has managed to silence his critics in the best way possible by playing a starring role in what is turning out to be a surprisingly good season for the Canadiens.
|'The only thing that matters is the guys on the club,' says the low key goalie who has 11 wins this season. (Getty Images)|
And he showed flashes of brilliance in a hurry, leading the Canadiens to a stunning first-place finish in the Eastern Conference that season. Problem was his game slipped in the aftermath, questions were raised about his off-ice activities and everything came to a head last season when he lost his starting job to someone who became an instant legend in Montreal.
Price then became a villain when the Canadiens put all their eggs in his basket by shipping away playoff hero Jaroslav Halak. The June trade of Halak to St. Louis incurred the wrath of the Canadiens faithful and raised several eyebrows around the league, especially because it brought what seemed like a weak return. It isn't doing so any more.
But while Halak has lived up to expectations with the Blues and is one of the league's top goalies this season, so is Price. He has rewarded Montreal's faith in him by paying big early dividends on the modest new contract he received in August, starting more games so far than anyone and tying for the lead in wins. Price's goals-against and save percentage numbers are among the best in the league, and in the last week, he has shut out two high-scoring division leaders as part of Montreal's four-game winning streak.
"Last season, he didn't get the results," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said, "but you could tell the progress he made in terms of maturity and his work ethic."
The sense around Montreal is that much of the explanation for Price's success lies in his response to being anointed the clear-cut No. 1. The Canadiens have long believed Price could be an elite goaltender. They just really weren't sure about it, which made it a gamble to trade the 25-year-old Halak.
But Montreal has witnessed a stunning turnaround by Price, who came into this season with more pressure than anyone in the league. (Sorry Ilya, but Price was booed during the preseason when he got off to a rough start in his first couple of games.) Now the decibel levels of his name chants through the Bell Centre rise with each passing game, and the low-key goaltender has become the toast of Montreal. In both official languages.
Price underlined that point against the Flyers, a day after being named the league's top player for the previous week. It was the first meeting of the teams since Philadelphia won the conference final last spring in five games over Montreal, and in many ways a statement game between two division leaders at a point in the schedule where snapshots about the league are becoming a little more in focus.
The exceptionally deep and talented Flyers may be the league's best team right now, and they came into the game on a 9-0-1 run in which they had outscored opponents 44-18. But the explosive Flyers failed to get any of the 41 shots they launched past the Montreal netminder. Price was sharp from the outset, making a big early stop off Mike Richards, and then delivering the momentum-turning point in the second period when he stonewalled Philadelphia on a two-man advantage.
Price made several great saves, robbing big gunners Daniel Briere and Jeff Carter among others from close range and giving his team a chance to show everyone the Habs are for real this season. And with Price leading the way.
So what does that mean to him now?
"The guys have done a tremendous job in front of me," he said.
With emphasis of course.