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Carey Price can impact game before it starts

Opponents don't look forward to facing Canadiens goalie, who hasn't lost in year

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- It would be fair to wonder if Carey Price remembers what it is like to lose.

When the goalie skates toward the Montreal Canadiens net on Saturday for their game at Bell Centre against the Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. ET; CITY, TVA Sports, TCN-PH, NHL-TV), it will have been more than a calendar year since Price lost a game of any real significance.

Granted, Price has played 14 games since that 4-3 loss at the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 29, 2015 -- nine NHL regular-season games and five at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 -- but a 14-start winning streak is a remarkable achievement.

It is made even more so by the elapsed time between the third and fourth win, which Price spent recovering from a sprained MCL in his right knee that ended his 2015-16 season on Nov. 25, a 5-1 win at the New York Rangers.

Since then, Price was 5-0-0 with a .957 save percentage for Team Canada at the World Cup and is 6-0-0 with a .964 save percentage this NHL season.

If Price wins his 10th consecutive NHL start Saturday, he will be the first goalie to do so since the first time he accomplished the feat, April 5-Oct. 24, 2015, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"He's a special player, and there are very few players like that in the NHL," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "You have Sidney Crosby, and we all know he's a special player. Carey Price is a special player, we're all aware of that."

Video: VAN@MTL: Price makes 42 saves in shutout victory

Price won the Hart and Vezina trophies in 2015 with a season for the ages: 44-16-6, 1.96 goals-against average, .933 save percentage. Stephane Waite, his goaltending coach, said during training camp that Price believes he can be even better than that, and he appears to be showing it.

"I don't know, man, I feel the same," Price said Thursday. "I don't really feel I need the measuring stick to hold up against any other year. I'm just trying to play the game."

That, in a nutshell, is Carey Price. He is not concerned with the past, he does not worry about the future. He is solely focused on the present.

It's a lesson he learned coming of age in the hockey fishbowl of Montreal, where distractions can engulf you and the slightest dip in performance can make a passionate fan base turn on you in a heartbeat.

No one knows that better than Price, who was the chosen one at the start of his career, over the hill at age 23, and is back atop the mountain of Canadiens fan adulation.

His importance was made obvious last season when the Canadiens crumbled after he was injured. But what isn't quite as obvious is the impact Price has on the team mentally.

Video: TOR@MTL: Price turns away Nylander on a breakaway

That impact must be looked at through the prism of a Leaguewide belief that the Canadiens are not a very good team without Price, a perception his teammates have worked diligently to change but one that was given more weight after last season.

Price's presence gives the Canadiens confidence. That is clear. But on occasion, Montreal will play a game that forces Price to prove just how good he is, as he did in a 42-save, 3-0 shutout of the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday.

The Canadiens, to a man, were about as upset as you will see in an NHL dressing room after a win.

"You cash in the points when they're there, but at the same time you don't see the energy after the game of the guys feeling too good about themselves," captain Max Pacioretty said after that game. "More so, we let Carey down. We relied on him to bail us out. That's not the way we want to play."

Many teams get an emotional lift when their goalie steals a game, but Price has done it so often, and it has become such a widely accepted narrative, that it can have the opposite effect on the Canadiens.

Video: TBL@MTL: Prices denies Point with blocker save in 1st

"During the game he [ticks] you off in a good way, like we want to fight and make sure that we come back and try to win the game," Pacioretty said the next day. "But then, after, you feel like [garbage]. Like, 'Why did we let that happen?'"

That's not to say Price has a negative mental impact on his teammates, because nothing could be further from the truth. But it is nuanced. What is not the least bit nuanced is how his presence impacts opponents.

After Price made 31 saves in a 3-1 win against the Flyers at Bell Centre on Oct. 24 in his third start after he missed the first three games because he was sick, Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux said jokingly, "I wish he had the flu again for tonight, but that's not the case. He's one of the best."

Forwards, particularly high-end offensive ones, don't like facing Price because he can be intimidating. New York Islanders captain John Tavares probably described that mental challenge better than anyone.

"Sometimes you think you let one rip and you feel like you got some pretty good wood on it, and you got the target that you've looked at and picked off, and he kind of just gloves it like it was a bouncing tennis ball going in there," Tavares said. "He just makes it look easy."

Video: PHI@MTL: Price stops Cousins from the slot

Tavares said those words prior to the 2015 NHL Awards, but it is an analogy he felt so perfectly described Price he said it again at the World Cup, more than a year later. It provides a window into what Price can do to the minds of some of the best shooters in the game.

When the Flyers take the ice Saturday and see Price in net, there is little doubt they will be thinking how much harder they will have to work to score. Price's teammates will be ready to work extra hard to compensate for their lackluster effort in his previous start.

The term "impact player" gets used often in the NHL, but it is hard to imagine a player who has a greater mental impact on a game than that.

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