MONTREAL - Carey Price is inching closer and closer to getting back to work.
On Wednesday morning, the 29-year-old netminder skated alongside the rest of his teammates for a second straight day as the Canadiens held a rare practice at the Bell Centre in conjunction with having their annual team photo taken at center ice.
Video: Price on possibly returning on Thursday
The four-time All-Star, who has been battling a severe case of the flu that has already forced him to miss the first three games of the regular season, says his health has vastly improved with antibiotics and rest under the supervision of Dr. David Mulder - so much so that he isn't ruling out a possible return to the lineup on Thursday night against the Arizona Coyotes.
"I just had a flu. It lasted a little bit longer than I expected, but I feel fine now. I'd like to [play on Thursday night]. I'll see how I feel [on Thursday] and take it from there," said Price, who admits to having lost seven or eight pounds since falling ill. "It's getting close, [though]. I think, like I said, it was day by day. Everybody's probably had the flu before, so you kind of know that it takes a couple of days to get your energy back, especially playing sports."
Even though Price was in fine form at practice on Wednesday, head coach Michel Therrien says the Canadiens aren't getting ahead of themselves when it comes to Price's playing status. But, things are headed in the right direction, insisted the veteran bench boss.
"He had a really good day. As the days go on, the better he feels. One thing is certain. First thing on Thursday, we're going to re-evaluate the situation," explained Therrien, who is clearly eager to see his starter back between the pipes sooner rather than later. "I can tell you that he's excited to play. I'm also excited to see him play and the fans are, too. Right now, though, this was his first really good day, which is very encouraging."
Price's progress certainly isn't lost on his teammates, who, like Therrien, are very much looking forward to welcoming him back into the fold with six games coming up over the next 10 days.
"He's our heart and soul, our rock. It was nice to see him back out there," said Nathan Beaulieu, before expanding upon the way in which Price really is a player whose impact extends far beyond the Canadiens' goal crease. "He moves the puck so well. He gets the puck behind the net and he's not just rimming it. He's like a third defenseman for us there, so we just kind of peel off and get open for him. He shuts down breakdowns in D zones, so even if pucks are rimmed offensively, he'll get out of the net and grab them. It's a huge part of our defense. Killing penalties, you can dish it back to him and he'll fire it all the way down. He's such a big presence offensively."
Video: Therrien shares an update on Price
That doesn't mean that Al Montoya hasn't turned his fair share of heads in Price's absence, though. The 31-year-old Chicago native has stepped up to the plate and been a dependable soldier time and again in the early going this year, particularly in his 36-save shutout victory performance over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the home opener on Thursday night. Price himself has definitely been impressed by Montoya's body of work so far in a Canadiens uniform.
"He's a veteran guy. He's not rattled or shaken by anything. It's nice to have that in our room. He's a really easy guy to get along with and he's playing great hockey. It takes a lot of pressure off of me. It's been great," praised Price, who also had plenty of good things to say about the rest of his teammates, too. "I thought, especially last night, they did a great job. We're playing with a lot more confidence it seems this year. I'm definitely looking forward to getting back in there with the team."
When Price does finally get the green light, Therrien confirmed that the plan remains to give him approximately 60 starts over the course of the 2016-17 campaign, give or take a few here and there, of course, depending on the circumstances. Seeing Price return to active duty, however, is the primary focus for now.
"When Carey's ready to play, he'll play," concluded Therrien. "It's very simple."