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Carey Price hopes to make season debut Thursday

Montreal goaltender missed first three games of season with flu, hasn't played since injuring knee last November

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price hopes to make his season debut at home against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; SN360, RDS, FS-A, NHL.TV), but he was not ready to make that decision Wednesday.

It would be Price's first regular-season game in a Canadiens uniform since Nov. 25, just short of 11 months ago. He missed the final 4 1/2 months of last season with a knee injury and sat out the first three games this season with the flu.

The illness caused him to lose 7-8 pounds, draining him of some energy. Price said he wants to make sure his energy level is sufficient when he wakes up Thursday before making the decision whether to play.

"It's getting close," Price said. "It's day by day. Everybody's probably had the flu before, so you kind of know it takes a couple of days to get your energy back, especially when you're playing sports."

Backup Al Montoya has started all three games and went 2-0-1 with a 1.30 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage. He made 36 saves in a 4-0 shutout of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Montreal's home opener on Tuesday.

Video: PIT@MTL: Montoya denies Schultz's one-timer

"He's playing great hockey, so it takes a lot of the pressure off of me," Price said. "It's been great."

Price took part in a full practice Wednesday for the first time since Oct. 9. The Canadiens announced the next day that Price had the flu; he did not step back on the ice until Monday, when he did drills for 40 minutes with goaltending coach Stephane Waite but left before practice began.

Price participated in the morning skate prior to the game against Pittsburgh, but Wednesday was his first full practice.

The last time Price played in a regular-season game for Montreal, he sprained the MCL in his right knee, ending his 2015-16 season. He played in one game this preseason, making 28 saves in a 6-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Bell Centre on Oct. 6. That came after he helped Team Canada win the World Cup of Hockey 2016 last month with a 5-0-0 record, 1.40 GAA and .957 save percentage.

The Canadiens were 21-34-4 following Price's injury last season, so he is encouraged to see them get off to a 2-0-1 start this season without him.

"We're playing with a lot more confidence, it seems this year," Price said. "I'm definitely looking forward to getting back in behind the team."

Price's importance to the Canadiens is not limited to making saves, something that became somewhat obvious in his absence last season. His ability to play the puck is also a big part of Montreal's transition game, neutralizing opposing forecheckers before they are able to get started and sparing his defensemen from potentially punishing trips into their end to retrieve the puck.

"He's like a third defenseman for us," defenseman Nathan Beaulieu said. "Seriously, we just kind of peel off and get open for him … He's such a big presence offensively. That's weird for a goalie, but he's offensively there for us."

In Price's 12 starts last season, the Canadiens scored 43 goals, 3.58 per game. In the 59 games following Price's injury, the Canadiens scored 138 goals, or 2.33 per game. There were a number of other factors that went into that drop in offensive production, injuries to forward Brendan Gallagher and defenseman Jeff Petry being the primary ones, but Price's presence appears to have an impact on Montreal's ability to score.

When you add that to Price's dominant goaltending, his importance to the Canadiens becomes that much greater. But it is also something that has created somewhat of an identity crisis in Montreal, with the skaters in front of Price not wanting to be known simply as an average team with outstanding goaltending.

It was a source of motivation early last season when the Canadiens got off to a 9-0-0 start, the best in Montreal history, and remains one today.

"You certainly don't want to be reliant on one guy," Gallagher said. "The best teams, you can look around the locker room and rely on anyone on any given night. I think that's what we're building towards this year.

"No one was hoping [Price] would be out of the lineup, but for us to start without him we understand we have a really good team here. When we get him back we'll only be that much stronger. It's not a terrible thing for us to be a team, to not be reliant on one single individual, one single talent, as good as he is. We want to be a team."

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