BROSSARD, Quebec -- The Montreal Canadiens have been trying their hardest not to think about when they will be getting their best player back.
Goaltender Carey Price, the reigning Hart and Vezina trophy winner, has played 12 games this season and the Canadiens have struggled in his absence.
The original timeline for Price's recovery from a lower-body injury had him possibly returning as soon as Monday, and Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty admitted he had begun entertaining the possibility of seeing him again soon.
"It's crept in my mind," Pacioretty said. "That's been like a vault that no one has the code to."
A few minutes after Pacioretty was done speaking, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien opened that vault a little bit when he revealed Price would likely not be ready before the All-Star break, meaning the earliest he might play would be Feb. 2 at the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Canadiens have eight games between now and then, starting Saturday at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports, ROOT).
"We said it would be a minimum of six weeks, so it was a long-term injury," Therrien said. "When you're dealing with a long term injury it's always tough to say that he's going to be back on this specific day. We need to follow the rehabilitation process, and I'm told it's going well."
Price was initially injured in a game Oct. 29 at the Edmonton Oilers, missing the next nine games.
He returned Nov. 20 at the New York Islanders and played three games before aggravating the same injury Nov. 25 at the New York Rangers.
Price has not played a game since.
In Price's absence Mike Condon has played the majority of the games. Dustin Tokarski had been his primary backup, but the Canadiens acquired goalie Ben Scrivens from the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 28 to split time with Condon. Tokarski was traded to the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday.
The Canadiens announced Nov. 30 that Price would be out a minimum of six weeks, a timeline that comes up Monday, which explains why Pacioretty started thinking about Price's return.
It is also because Price is around the team again after being isolated for nearly three weeks because of the Canadiens' schedule.
The Canadiens played their first home game since Dec. 17 on Wednesday when they defeated the New Jersey Devils 2-1 at Bell Centre. The eight straight road games, broken up by a few visits home during the Christmas break and after the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, meant Price did the bulk of his recent rehabilitation work on his own.
With the Canadiens back at home, Price's teammates are able to get a sense of where he is physically and emotionally.
"To come to the rink, [Price] is still so emotionally there," Pacioretty said. "He's here all day, he does what it takes to feel better. To see that emotion rather than have him hiding from the team and not being around, it's nice to see.
"It was nice to come home and see that because we've been on the road for so long. Being on the road you kind of wonder, 'How's [Price] doing? I hope he's getting better.' To see him now and see that he's working hard, hopefully he's back sooner rather than later."
The Canadiens have a 13-14-3 record in games Price hasn't started this season, including a 6-12-1 mark since his last game. They have allowed 79 goals in the 30 games Price has missed this season, an average of 2.63 per game.
Therrien said he is pleased with where the Canadiens sit in the standings, third in the Atlantic Division prior to games Friday, considering how long Price has been out.
"Don't forget, our best player has only played 25 percent of the time this year, and as we all know he's got an important role with our team," he said. "Any team loses their No. 1 goalie, you can replace him for a short period of time, but in the long run it's tough. But we've hung in there, and this is what I like about our team."
If there is one player who understands what Price has been going through, it is forward Brendan Gallagher.
Gallagher fractured two fingers on his left hand Nov. 22, one game before Price was injured in New York, and only returned Jan. 1 for the Winter Classic. Missing both of them proved to be too much for the Canadiens to take, as they established a new franchise record for losses in a calendar month when they went 2-11-0 in December.
"When someone first gets injured, a number kind of has to be thrown out," Gallagher said. "I know when I got hurt, it was anywhere between six weeks to three months. It's a wide time range, you don't really know until the process goes along, a few weeks into it.
"With any injury, it's going to take time. With a timetable like that, you're not paying too much attention. He's just got to work every day to get healthy. For the time being were going to do what we have to do without him. We're surely looking forward to getting him back."