BROSSARD, Quebec – The Montreal Canadiens are facing a stiff test and general manager Marc Bergevin is very eager to see the results.
Goaltender Carey Price will miss at least the next six weeks because of a lower-body injury that will not require surgery, the Canadiens announced Monday.
That six-week timeline ends Jan. 11, or 18 games from now on the Canadiens' schedule after Price already missed nine games while recovering from the same injury from Oct. 29-Nov. 22.
"What he needs is rest and treatment," Bergevin said. "It will take as long as it takes, but it's a minimum of six weeks."
Bergevin has no intention to acquire some goaltending help for the Canadiens, choosing to ride rookie Mike Condon as the starter. Instead, Bergevin wants to see how his team reacts to the adversity of missing Price and forward Brendan Gallagher, out at least another five weeks with two fractured fingers on his left hand.
The Canadiens had no injuries of major significance a season ago. They do now.
"We'll see what the character of this team is," Bergevin said. "I believe in our character, and every team in the NHL goes through periods without key players. Last season we were very lucky, but this year it will be a part of the evaluation of our character as a team. There's no need for us to panic over this."
Bergevin had also said Dustin Tokarski would remain as the backup to Condon for now, but later Monday the Canadiens called up prospect Zachary Fucale from St. John's of the American Hockey League and sent Tokarski down.
Tokarski has not started since Oct. 28 with St. John's and was sent down primarily to get some game action. The Ice Caps have games scheduled Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of this week. The Canadiens play their next set of back-to-back games Dec. 9 and 10 when they host the Boston Bruins and visit the Detroit Red Wings the next day.
Price originally was injured Oct. 29 during a 4-3 loss at the Edmonton Oilers and did not return until Nov 20, a 5-3 win at the New York Islanders. He played the return leg of the home and home with the Islanders on Nov. 22 and started at the New York Rangers on Nov. 25. But he left that game after the second period when he aggravated the original injury.
Bergevin insisted that Price did not return from the previous injury too early.
"When it did happen, I was wondering if he came back too quick," Bergevin said. "But based on our doctors, based on Carey, based on everything we have…it was not the reason that he got injured, that he came back too quick. But I understand the question, you always wonder if that was the case. We looked into it deeply after and that was not the case."
Condon, 25, is 8-2-3 with a 2.19 GAA and .916 save percentage in 14 games this season as Price's backup. During Price's previous absence, Condon went 5-2-2 with a 2.39 GAA and .903 save percentage in nine games.
Condon has tried to keep a level head since winning the job in training camp only two years removed from playing 39 games with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL, and his approach will not change now that he knows he will be the starter for the next six weeks.
"It's just one game," Condon said. "All I've got to do is worry about one game [Tuesday]."
Condon said the key to his success thus far has been his ability not to think of what is happening to him, though that can be difficult sometimes in a hockey-crazed environment like Montreal. Condon was living in a downtown hotel until Nov. 1, when he moved into his own apartment. Before moving day he had his first glimpse of what life is like as the starting goaltender of the Canadiens.
"I was taking my suits to the dry cleaner, some guy had a huge lens camera and stopped right in front of me and took a picture," Condon said. "I was just like, 'What's up?' He didn't even say anything. He just kept walking."
Condon's teammates have enjoyed playing in front of him and appreciate his calm demeanor because it is so similar to Price. His style in net is also similar, a big body with sound positioning and good puck handling. Goaltending coach Stephane Waite has tried to get Condon to challenge shooters less aggressively and stay in his crease more in order to be ready for a second shot if it comes, something he worked diligently to change in Price as well.
But Condon is not Price, no matter how similar he is, and his teammates know that they will need to help the rookie get through this stretch in the spotlight.
"Before [Price's] timeline wasn't as long, so you could kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel," Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty said. "Now we have to get through X amount of games without our best player. Right now it's a long period of time; we don't know when he's going to be back.
"It's out of our control, so we just have to come to the rink with the mindset of doing the right things and preparing the right way because it's going to be a battle every night."
Over the next six weeks the Canadiens will face some tough opponents, including an eight-game road trip that begins Dec. 19 at the Dallas Stars and follows with games at the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and the Boston Bruins on Jan. 1 for the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
"Obviously we'd like to see [Price] playing and playing well; he's a big part of the team," Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban said. "But at the same token, if we think we're going to get any sympathy from any teams that we're playing the next six weeks, we're not."