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Analysis: Canadiens weather storm without Price

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

NEW YORK (NHL.com) -- Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban hesitated to the point where he almost stopped walking on his way to the team bus.

The question to Subban following the Canadiens' 5-3 win against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on Friday was if he senses anything different about the Canadiens because they survived, and thrived, without goalie Carey Price, who missed nine games with a lower-body injury before returning in Brooklyn.

"Um, I don't know about that," Subban told NHL.com.

The Canadiens played well without Price. They went 5-2-2 behind rookie Mike Condon. It was impressive and, frankly, unexpected, considering how valuable Price is to them and how the Canadiens haven't been very good without him in the past two seasons.

But is Subban really suggesting that the Canadiens don't look or feel differently because of that success? Is he really saying the Canadiens aren't more confident now that they know they can still win without the reigning Hart Trophy and Vezina Trophy winner in the lineup?

Yes, he is, and he makes a compelling point for why.

"We have a good team," Subban said.

Simple. Direct. True.

"At the end of the day, he's an important part of our team, but we have other important parts as well," Subban continued. "Together, as a group, we can do a lot of damage."

They have done some notable damage this season with and without Price.

Montreal is 8-2-0 with Price and 7-2-2 when Condon starts. The difference from the past few seasons is astounding.

The Canadiens were 6-6-4 when backup Dustin Tokarski started last season. They were 12-8-3 with backups in the 2013-14 season. They lost in six games to the New York Rangers in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final after Price was injured in Game 1 and unable to return.

Part of the reason was the backups weren't handling their load. A bigger reason was the Canadiens simply weren't good enough to win without their best player.

They just got finished proving, albeit in a small sample of games, that is not the case this season.

"[Being 7-2-2 without Price] doesn't say anything about what he means to the team because he means a lot to the team, but at the end of the day we do have a good squad," Subban said. "We have 21 other guys that can contribute and make a difference when they're called upon."

Subban wanted to say that last season too. Nobody would have believed him.

Despite, as Subban pointed out, strong seasons from himself, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, Andrei Markov, Dale Weise and on and on, the Canadiens won last season mainly because Price was out-of-this-world good.

Montreal was 21st in shots against per game (30.1), 25th on the power play (16.0 percent) and 23rd in shot attempts percentage (48.50 SAT), but Price was dominant, and the Canadiens finished first in the Atlantic Division and second in the League standings with 110 points.

Price was first in the League in wins (44), goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.933) among goalies with 25 or more appearances. He won the Hart Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award and William M. Jennings Trophy.

"He deserves all those awards," Subban said of Price. "He deserved all those accolades."

And because of that it was reasonable and fair late last month to question how the Canadiens would do in the wake of losing Price for an extended period of time even if they started this season with better numbers across the board than they had last season.

"I think some guys think our team deserves more credit," Subban said. "I think we've earned that. We had an opportunity to prove it and we took advantage of it."

If it's about respect, Subban is probably right; the Canadiens earned some in Price's absence.

But he was hesitant when it came to that topic too.

"To be honest with you, since I've been in the League our team has never gotten the respect that we've deserved," Subban said. "Even when we've gone on deep playoff runs and we've beaten good teams in the playoffs we've never gotten the credit we deserve. I don't know when that happens and I don't think we really care as long as we continue to play well. That's all that matters."

When told it comes with winning the Stanley Cup, he agreed.

However, one of the hurdles on the way to being a championship team is overcoming adversity. Losing your best player at the most important position to an injury definitely qualifies.

The Canadiens had to prove to themselves, not the media or other teams in the League, that they could win without him. They may have wanted to believe it last season, but reality got in the way. They couldn't. They wouldn't have. They weren't good enough.

Their reality this season is different. They are good enough.

"We've proven that we're more than just a team that has a great goaltender," Subban said. "I don't think a lot of people would have expected our record to be what it was without Carey Price."

He didn't hesitate to say that, and nor should he.

Subban and the Canadiens are thrilled to have Price back in the lineup, but winning without him only reinforced what they've thought about their team as a whole all season.

"I think now the whole league knows we're a great team," Subban said, "and it's not about one player, or two or three players. It's about us as a group."

Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer

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