BROSSARD,Quebec – When Carey Price was asked Saturday if he felt like he was 25 years old, the Montreal Canadiens' goaltender answered that he felt much older than that.
Goalie - MTL
GAA: 3.26 | SVP: 0.894
His general manager clearly disagrees.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin met with the media Monday to discuss his team's 2012-13 season and the overwhelming topic of conversation was not only the play of his starting goaltender, but his comments Saturday that gave the impression the pressure of the Montreal fishbowl was beginning to wear on him.
When Price admitted that he missed being anonymous and that he no longer even went to the grocery store, or anywhere for that matter, he compared his existence in Montreal to that of a "hobbit in a hole."
Those comments were interpreted by some in Montreal as a sign that Price is wilting under the pressure, even though that's not at all what he said. In fact, he said on numerous occasions that he's accepted that pressure and scrutiny as a reality of his chosen profession.
When Bergevin was asked about it Monday, he chalked it up to a young goaltender who is still maturing and developing, even though Price just completed his sixth season in Montreal and admitted he feels "much older" than his 25 years.
"The position of goaltender is very difficult, it's very demanding. So it's normal that a young person feels pressure. You can't forget Carey Price is 25 years old. I'm 47, so even though there's a lot of pressure in Montreal, I'm equipped today to deal with it. As a young player, it's more difficult," Bergevin said. "I'm not worried at all. Even Carey said there are things he needs to improve on, but I am 100 percent behind him. I believe in his ability. We're going to support him, we're going to help him and we will go forward with Carey Price."
Bergevin, speaking on the day he was named one of three finalists for the general manager of the year award, also displayed his ability to lower the tension with a joke, something he was known for over his 20 years as an NHL defenseman.
"I don't know how we'll work it out," Bergevin said. "Maybe I can do his groceries for him?"
Though Bergevin defended Price, he was quite blunt in his assessment of his goaltender's performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, saying, "He could have been better and he knows it."
He was asked whether the play of the Montreal defense was to blame for Price's performance in the playoffs, when he had an .894 save percentage in the first four games of Montreal's five-game elimination by the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals before missing Game 5 with a sprained MCL in his left knee.
Even then, Bergevin would not excuse the play of his goaltender.
"If you're watching a goalie and you feel he gave up a bad goal, you can have Bobby Orr or Raymond Bourque, a bad goal is a bad goal," Bergevin said. "If the shot comes from outside the blue line, having the best defense in the world won't help you. You can't camouflage a bad goal."
Though Price was the main topic of conversation Monday, he is far from being the Canadiens' biggest problem.
A strong regular season where the Canadiens moved from last place in the Eastern Conference to Northeast Division champions was greatly overshadowed by their quick exit in the playoffs.
The Senators used their considerable size advantage to its full potential, physically battering the Canadiens and injuring several key forwards. The lack of size has been an issue in Montreal that dates back much farther than Bergevin's arrival last May, but he was the first Canadiens GM in recent memory to openly admit it is indeed an issue that needs to be addressed.
"I believe in balance," Bergevin said. "We do have a small team, but we're a fast team, we're a young team. You don't change the makeup of a team overnight, it takes a long time. There are 29 other teams that want to be big, fast and strong. But it's easier said than done. But balance is very important. You can't win with all big guys and you can't win with all small guys.
"That's my job moving forward -- to bring balance to our club."
Bergevin did point out that one of the Canadiens' best players was also one of their smallest, Calder Trophy finalist Brendan Gallagher, and that was because he had strong character. While he admits size is a need, Bergevin does not feel free agency is the way to get it.
"I've said from the start I want to build for the future, and the future is the draft and player development," Bergevin said. "You don't build a championship team through free agency. It's not going to happen. It's never happened."
Another area that proved to be deficient over the final stretch of the season and in the playoffs was the play of Montreal's defense, particularly after the loss of physical defenseman Alexei Emelin to a knee injury April 6. While the defense as a whole appeared to miss his physical presence, the one whose game slipped the most following Emelin's injury was Andrei Markov.
A standout over the first 35 games of the season, Markov had two goals and an assist and was a minus-8 in the eight games following Emelin's injury before recovering in the final two games of the regular season with a goal and two assists with a plus-3 rating. He had one assist and was a minus-1 in five playoff games.
Bergevin acknowledged that Markov's play slipped at the end of the season, but he felt the compressed schedule did him no favors as he made a successful return from consecutive reconstructive surgeries to his right knee. He feels it won't necessarily be the same thing in a full season even if there are more games to play.
"The position of goaltender is very difficult, it's very demanding. So it's normal that a young person feels pressure. You can't forget Carey Price is 25 years old. I'm 47, so even though there's a lot of pressure in Montreal, I'm equipped today to deal with it. As a young player, it's more difficult -- Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin on goalie Carey Price
"There are two things that happened in a short season. We played [fewer] games, but we had less rest. So you'll play more games [in a full season], but you'll have more rest. Will that even out at the end of the day?" Bergevin asked. "We had four [games] in six [days], three [games] in four [days]. I was tired just traveling with those guys. I can just imagine how hard it was.
"He's a competitor. He's a strong defenseman and these two played well together. Was it because [Emelin] was out? I don't know … not playing for two years then playing back-to-backs and four [games] in six [days], he did get tired. But overall, I think we're pretty happy with the way he performed this year."
Ultimately, Bergevin said he will have the same philosophy to improving his defense that he does for building his team in general – he will develop it. He noted young defensemen like Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn may be ready to take on roles at the NHL level.
"We will look at our young players before we look outside the organization," he said. "What I tell our young players is if there's no room for them, I'll make room. Force me to make a decision."
Bergevin's first year on the job would probably be considered by most as a rousing success, as evidenced by him being named a finalist for GM of the year, and he was willing to concede that overall he was pleased with the season.
But it was obvious that the end did not sit well with the rookie GM, no matter the rash of injuries that hit the Canadiens in the playoffs, and that he will do what he feels is necessary to rectify it.
"There are no excuses," he said. "We can talk all day long about the guys we lost; that's not good enough for me. We have to find a way. We're not good enough."