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Pressure still there, but Price has more slack

Friday, 09.23.2011 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 15

By Arpon Basu - Managing Editor LNH.com

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Pressure still there, but Price has more slack
For the second straight preseason, the Montreal goaltender got off to a disastrous start. This time, however, he has a little more wiggle room with fans following an emergent 2010-11 season.

MONTREAL -- The similarities were so numerous they were striking, but it was the one huge difference that overshadowed them all.

Carey Price's preseason debut for the Montreal Canadiens on Sept. 20 was a near-carbon copy of his first preseason start in goal a year ago.

The Dallas Stars scored on three of their first eight shots and on four of 13 Tuesday, two days short of a year after Price allowed four goals on nine shots against the Boston Bruins in his first start of the 2010 preseason.

The Canadiens playing in front of him were just as porous defensively this week as they were against Boston last September, but Price clearly was not sharp. And just as he did a year ago, Price did not address reporters after the game.

That, however, is where the similarities end.

Carey Price
Goalie - MTL
RECORD: 38-28-6
GAA: 2.35 | SVP: 0.923
Price was booed mercilessly when his half of the game was completed last year, an expression of the frustration many Canadiens fans felt over him being chosen by the organization as the goaltender of the future over playoff hero Jaroslav Halak.

The pressure of that start a year ago was palpable, even though it was just a preseason game. And when Price spoke to the media a day later, he infamously instructed the fans to "chill out."

There will be no need for such advice this season, with chants of "Carey, Carey" raining down from the Bell Centre stands prior to the game and Price firmly rooted not only as the Canadiens' No. 1 goaltender, but also as their biggest star.

"It is kind of funny how much things change in one year, but that obviously is for the best," Price said the day before the game. "I'm still in the same position I was in last year, I still don't feel good and I still need to work on a lot of things throughout these games. So (Tuesday) might not go that great. You never know."

Indeed, it didn't.

Price allowed a Mike Ribeiro shot from a sharp angle to squirt through him into the crease, where Brenden Morrow had an easy tap into an open net for the first goal. He allowed Adam Pardy's point shot to squeeze through his pads later to make it 2-0 for Dallas.

Canadiens forward Michael Cammalleri played in that game against Boston last year and was in the lineup this past Tuesday. He couldn't help but admit the feeling of déjà vu that came over him as the score quickly because 3-0 in favor of Dallas.

"You come out and say let's be sharp tonight, let's start good habits, and we weren't good enough at that stuff," Cammalleri said. "So it ends up the puck winds up in our net a few times, and it ends up that Carey's in net and the fans were almost wanting to boo. So I don't even know what to make of it."

One thing to make of it is the degree of slack Price will be afforded from the Canadiens' demanding fan base this season, as the boos that eventually did come after the Stars' third goal most likely were aimed at the goal scorer -- former Canadiens and Bruins forward Michael Ryder.

But while the context is different, Price still has a good degree of pressure on his 24-year-old shoulders entering this season.

The Canadiens' chances for success are dependent on Price at least coming close to replicating last season, when he had 38 wins, a 2.35 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in 72 games. His numbers improved in the playoffs, with a 2.11 GAA and .934 save percentage in Montreal's seven-game first-round loss to the Bruins.

Then there is Price's contract status, as he will become a restricted free agent July 1, 2012, something he admits is on his mind as the season begins.

"Everybody's going to think about it. Every player wants to sign another contract," Price said. "So this is obviously a big year for me and I want to have another successful year like last year. I want to do everything I did last year, and I want to do more."

Should he succeed in doing that, chances are good Price will be seeking a big raise on his current two-year, $5.5 million deal.

The Canadiens rarely, if ever, conduct contract negotiations during the season, and Price knows he likely will have to live with this uncertainty until the season ends.

"Everybody knows I want to play here and sign an extension," Price said. "I'll just wait for my agent and the GM to do their thing. That's what they're paid to do."

In the meantime, Price will try to focus on what he is paid to do. And while he will feel the need to further impress Canadiens management, he won't have to worry about doing the same with the team's ravenous fan base.

Because as his first preseason game clearly demonstrated, Price already has won them over, and then some.
Quote of the Day

We want to make sure that whoever makes our team really makes our team by earning it and not putting them in situations where they get preference because of their status as a first-round pick or whatever it might be. That's not going to happen. Everybody has to earn their way on our team.

— Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen on the team's prospects at development camp