A year ago tomorrow, I wrote a piece on the overhyping of Montreal goaltender Carey Price, an article that was criticized by a lot of Habs Nation — though some agreed with me — during what was supposed to be the franchise's glorious centennial celebration.
With the Hurricanes and Canadiens set to face off tonight at the Bell Centre, the hype around Price has died down — and so have the expectations for the former first-round pick. The battle for the No. 1 spot in net in Montreal is not as clear-cut as once perceived, with the Montreal fan base lining up in two camps for Price and Jaroslav Halak.
Habs Eyes On The Prize have been breaking down the two goalies head-to-head, while Halak's agent is even getting in on the argument (more on this later). A year ago, such talk was blasphemy. Today? Common fodder for the fans of Le Club de Hockey.
Price continues to show flashes of brilliance — his 55-save effort in a 2-0 loss to Nashville comes to mind — but over the past year the 22-year-old goalie has also been, at times, inconsistent, flustered and frustrated. There is no denying Price's talent. His combination of size, reflexes and compete-level are the attributes All-Star goalies are made of. But — like I said this time last year — it would be tough for any player to live up to such expectations, to thrive in the shadows cast by all-time greats Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy.
That pressure has clearly weighed on Price, whether you point to his pedestrian numbers (4-8, 3.09 goals-against average, .904 save percentage this season, 23-16-10, 2.83, .905 last year), or incidents like his salute to jeering Montreal fans last April.
The latest dust-up came when Halak's agent, Allan Walsh, joined in on the Price bashing. Following a 3-1 loss to the Lightning, Walsh tweeted:
"Interesting stat of the night.... #Habs' Price is 10W, 32L in last 42 starts. Hmm."
Price will likely be between the pipes for Montreal tonight, looking for his first win at home in five tries this season. Last season, Price was much better at home (13-4-7, 2.40, .918) than on the road (10-12-3, 3.21, .895). This year? He's 4-4 on the road with a 2.87 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, compared to 0-4 with a 3.54 GAA and .853 save percentage in front of the Montreal fans.
At this time a year ago, Canadiens fans were firmly behind their franchise goalie — now they're on the cusp of eating him alive. Not all hope is lost for Price in Montreal. He's still just 22 and has a lot of hockey in front of him, and Canes fans can relate to the growing pains a goaltending phenom can go through.
But the lights burn bright for hockey in Montreal — much, much brighter than they do in Raleigh or any other U.S. city. Habs Nation just has to hope they haven't overcooked their former savior.