It's no coincidence that when Carey Price sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on Nov. 25, 2015, and had to miss the final 59 games of last season, the wheels completely fell off the Montreal Canadiens' push to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Not only did Montreal lose its grip on first place in the Atlantic Division, it finished 13th in the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs. There was a major shakeup on June 29 when P.K. Subban was traded to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber, but the Canadiens knew that their success in the 2016-17 season would ultimately be determined by the health of their No. 1 goaltender.
Price is not only healthy again, he is dominating. Price has two regulation losses and leads the NHL in wins (13) and save percentage (.947) and ranks third with a 1.68 goals-against average. He also has two shutouts.
"I know we say this after every game, but Carey's the reason we're having this success," defenseman Jeff Petry said after Price made 32 saves in a 2-1 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday. "He does this night after night."
Video: MTL@DET: Price makes pair of superb athletic saves
Price's consistent performances are the biggest reason why the Canadiens are atop the Atlantic Division through 23 games. Not only is Price their most valuable player, he remains among the elite players in the NHL at any position.
That's why the consensus among 13 NHL.com writers has Price as the early favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the League's top goaltender.
"The way Carey's playing, he gives us a lot of confidence," Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. "He's a real leader. The way he's playing, there are moments when the team is flat, like all teams are sometimes, and he's there to make the big stops.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence. It's tough to describe his games. We're always repeating ourselves. I see the way he plays as leadership. That gives your team confidence."
Video: MTL@DET: Price shrugs off shot, denies rebound
Price received 64 points and 12 first-place votes. Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask received one first-place vote and finished second, and Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild, who had four shutouts in 17 games entering Tuesday, finished third.
Voting totals (points awarded on 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Carey Price, Canadiens, 64 points; Tuukka Rask, Bruins, 49; Devan Dubnyk, Wild, 34; Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets, 24; Corey Crawford, Blackhawks, 11; Pekka Rinne, Predators, 4; Craig Anderson, Senators, 3; Braden Holtby, Capitals, 3; Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers, 1; Peter Budaj, Kings, 1; Cory Schneider, Devils, 1.