What would you think about a goaltender who:

  • Played in the all-star game after posting an early 16-5-5 record with a 2.35 GAA and .919 SV%?
  • Tied Henrik Lundqvist and Evgeni Nabokov with a .920 even-strength save percentage on the season?
  • Managed all of this at the age of 21?

Unfortunately for Carey Price, who did all of those things last season, the majority tend to view it as a massive collapse. After raising hopes with a tremendous regular season in 2007-08, Montreal GM Bob Gainey traded away Cristobal Huet and passed the starting job on to Price. Price struggled in the playoffs en route to a second round exit, but despite that expectations were high going into 2008-09.

Price didn’t disappoint. As mentioned above, he posted a great record up until the all-star break, but things fell apart after that. The always gentle Montreal media, who eagerly pounced on each and every off-ice issue all season long, gleefully passed along stories of Price’s after-hours activities, and the netminder was harshly criticized as a partier and someone costing his teams wins because of his lifestyle. In the final playoff game of the year, the crowd at Montreal’s Bell Centre cheered him mockingly and Price through his hands up in the air in frustration – something that led to even more criticism.

Let’s look at Price’s numbers for last season month by month. I’ve added only one item that might be of interest:

  • October: 5-1-1, 1.91 GAA, .937 SV%
  • November: 6-3-2, 2.56 GAA, .915 SV%
  • December: 5-0-2, 2.25 GAA, .915 SV%
  • Ankle Injury – January 2, 2009
  • January: 1-3-0, 3.93 GAA, .867 SV%
  • February: 1-5-1, 3.75 GAA, .866 SV%
  • March: 5-2-3, 2.75 GAA, .910 SV%
  • April: 0-2-1, 3.64 GAA, .907 SV%

While certain people out there would have us believe that it was Carey Price’s off-ice lifestyle that submarined his performance last year, that just doesn’t make sense to me. Was he not partying for the season’s first three months?

The fact that Price’s play plumetted after suffering that injury at the start of January doesn’t seem to be a coincidence to me. In fact, it seems fair to say that the two events are directly connected – and without those two months of playing hurt, Price’s numbers on the season would have been 21-8-9, 2.52 GA, .917 GAA. I can’t disagree with what Pat Hickey wrote in the Montreal Gazette about the Canadiens last season:

There were many reasons for the Canadiens’ collapse during the second half of the 2008-09 season, but none looms larger than the stubborn decision on the part of then-head coach Guy Carbonneau, and later by Bob Gainey, to use goaltender Carey Price.

While Hickey asserts this means that Price should enter training camp on equal footing with backup Jaroslav Halak, I don’t think it matters. I think Price is the superior goaltender, and after having the summer off to recuperate and refocus, he should be able to beat Halak outright for the starting job.

Maybe I’m underthinking this, but I fully expect the Carey Price who started last season to show up again for the start of this season; and barring injury, I don’t expect to see the two-month collapse that happened last season.