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Canadiens elect not to renew goalie coach's contract

by Arpon Basu

Montreal Canadiens goaltending coach Pierre Groulx will not be working with Carey Price any longer.

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin announced Monday the club will not renew the contract of Groulx, who also served as an assistant coach, thus ending his four-year tenure with the team.

"I want to sincerely thank Pierre Groulx for his contribution to the Canadiens' organization over the past four years," Bergevin said in a press release issued by the team. "Pierre is a coach with a strong work ethic, a true professional who largely contributed to the development of our goaltenders. Unfortunately, we have to make the difficult decision today not to renew his contract with the team."

Groulx was the lone member of the Canadiens' 2011-12 coaching staff to be retained this season after Bergevin was hired in May of 2012, largely on the recommendation of Price. He was originally brought in by former head coach Jacques Martin to replace Roland Melanson, currently the goaltending coach of the Vancouver Canucks.

Price will now be working with his third goaltending coach in his six seasons with the Canadiens.

Groulx does have a fine track record over his career, helping current Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson find his game while he was with the Florida Panthers and also helping with the development of St. Louis Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak. But over the four seasons Groulx worked with the Canadiens goaltenders, Price had a bit of a roller coaster ride.

In Groulx's first season in 2009-10, Halak stole the No. 1 goaltending job from Price and was the driving force behind the Canadiens reaching the Eastern Conference Final.

When Halak was traded to St. Louis in the summer of 2010 the reigns were handed to Price, and he responded with the best season of his career in 2010-11 with a 38-28-6 record, 2.35 goals against average and .923 save percentage in 72 games. Price was even better in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2.34 GAA and .934 save percentage in a losing effort against the Boston Bruins, dropping the series in overtime of the seventh game on a goal by Nathan Horton that was deflected by Canadiens center Jeff Halpern. The Bruins would go on to win the Stanley Cup.

However, since that season Price's numbers have declined dramatically. He had a 2.43 GAA and .916 save percentage playing behind a last place team last season, and this season his .905 save percentage was a career low.

Price was in fact having a fine 2012-13 season as late as April 2, when he had an 18-6-4 record, 2.24 GAA and .916 save percentage. But over his final 10 appearances of the regular season Price went 3-7-0 with a 3.78 GAA and .871 save percentage.

The poor finish meant Price was ranked 29th among NHL goaltenders in goals against average and 34th for save percentage, while he was the League's third-highest paid goalie behind Nashville's Pekka Rinne and New York's Henrik Lundqvist with a $6.5 million cap hit for the next five years.

Price's struggles carried over into the playoffs, where he had a 3.26 GAA and .894 save percentage in four games before hurting his knee, sitting out the final loss of Montreal's five-game elimination at the hands of the Senators. Price's save percentage ranks 15th of the 18 goalies with at least two starts this postseason.

In Game 1 of the series, Price allowed a goal on a long, unscreened shot by Jakob Silfverberg early in the third period to allow the Senators to tie the game 2-2 and then had a Marc Methot slap shot from the blue line glance off his glove and in the net less than two minutes later to give Ottawa the lead in a game it would go on to win 4-2. Price bounced back in Game 2, but allowed six goals in Game 3 and played very well in Game 4 before getting hurt on a Cory Conacher goal that tied the game just before the end of regulation.

Then after the season was over, Price made headlines when he said he found it difficult to play in Montreal, admitting he rarely leaves his house and comparing himself to a "hobbit in a hole."

With such a lucrative, long term commitment to Price, coaxing him to improve by hiring a new goaltending coach may have been the only move available to Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien.

The onus will now be on Price to prove it was in fact his coaching that was the problem.

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