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Jose Theodore: Carey Price 'in a class by himself'

Former teammate says Canadiens goaltender is best in sport

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

TORONTO -- José Theodore was freshly signed by the Montreal Canadiens to a three-year contract in the fall of 2005 when a quiet, promising 18-year-old goaltender from British Columbia arrived at his first NHL training camp.

It was then that Theodore, who would be traded to the Colorado Avalanche six months later, took Carey Price under his wing. Price, the No. 5 selection in the 2005 NHL Draft, wouldn't fully unpack in Montreal for another two seasons. But at that 2005 training camp and forever since, Theodore has admired a goaltender who is widely viewed today as the finest in hockey.

With a 5-0 victory against the visiting Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, Price became the first goalie in NHL history to win his first 10 games from the start of a season. His personal NHL winning streak is 13 games, counting three from October 2015 before a knee injury shut him down. Tack on his work in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and back up more deeply into last season and Price is 23-2-0 in his past 25 regular-season starts, 28-2-0 including the World Cup.

Following the shutout Saturday, his second of the season, Price has a save percentage of .957 and a goals-against average of 1.40.

"Carey is just in a class by himself right now," said Theodore, a TVA Sports hockey analyst and weekly columnist in the French-language Le Journal de Montréal.

Video: DET@MTL: Price robs Glendening with great glove save

"When Carey is healthy, he has the same impact that Dominik Hasek had in the 1990s with the Buffalo Sabres. I remember I played against him; you knew he'd get the Vezina Trophy, that you'd have no chance to win it. Hasek would get the Vezina because every year (six times between 1993-94 and 2000-01) he'd have crazy numbers and he was just so strong. …

"There are a lot of great goalies now, but the way Carey plays, it seems every night that you can't beat him. Technically, mentally, right now he's the best in the game. When you see him out there, the sky's the limit. You see how fluid he is, how easy it seems to be for him."

Theodore remembers Price from his first days in the NHL and the weight of expectation that bore down on him. As a teenager, Price was a dominant talent, winning the 2006 IIHF World Junior Championship with Canada and then the 2007 Calder Cup with Hamilton, then the Canadiens' affiliate in the American Hockey League.

"Everybody was anxious to see Carey play, and everyone expected him to dominate," Theodore said. "As a goalie, sometimes it takes a little longer. Not everybody is going to be like [Martin Brodeur] or Patrick [Roy], and in Carey's case it was just a matter of having a little adversity and gaining some maturity, which he got when was fighting for the No. 1 job with Jaroslav Halak [in 2009-10].

"When [goaltending coach] Stephane Waite arrived [in 2013], it seemed that Carey finally was ready to do some serious damage. Then we saw him take his game to another level."

It was in 2014-15 that Price (44-16-6, 1.96 goals-against average, .933 save percentage, nine shutouts) swept the NHL Awards; he won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player; the Vezina, awarded by a vote of general managers to the League's best goalie; the Ted Lindsay Award as the NHL's MVP as voted by members of the NHL Players' Association, and with Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks he shared the William M. Jennings Trophy for fewest regular-season goals allowed by his team.

Video: DET@MTL: Price stands tall amidst flurry of shots

A knee injury torpedoed much of Price's 2015-16 season, but he has rebounded magnificently this season; his .957 World Cup save percentage evidently was a sign of things to come.

Theodore's best run with the Canadiens was seven straight wins in late March into early April of 2001-02, when he won the Vezina and the Hart trophies.

But the best stretch of his career came in 2009-10 with the Washington Capitals, winning 10 straight from Jan. 13 through Feb. 7, then losing once in overtime and once in a shootout before winning another seven in a row. Theodore lost one game in regulation in his final 24 games that season.

"We were fighting for the playoffs during my streak with the Canadiens, so that was like every game was a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a different mindset," Theodore said. "But this was the same in Montreal and Washington: You see that your teammates have so much confidence in you. They trust you. As a goalie, you know you can't lose the game. You can't see yourself allowing more than one or two goals per game because you're in that zone. You know you're going to win and that it will be a good game.

"You can see just the way the players walk in the dressing room, the body language. They know you're going to be there doing your job as the goalie and it just spreads to everyone. You're thinking you're never going to lose. You will, eventually, but you try to ride the wave as long as you can."

In a conversation during the 2015 playoffs, Theodore viewed Price as a template for goaltending excellence. He has seen nothing since then to change his opinion.

"If you made a DVD on what a goalie should look like, you pretty much would show the way Carey plays," Theodore said. "He has the size, speed, flexibility, stickhandling and the calm. It's his poise, the way that he might give up a bad goal, then immediately bounce back, make a big save and stay in the game.

"You know what to expect of him, and right now it's just the strength of Carey's mental game. He's so calm. When you're able to make your team and every player on it better by the way you play, that's when you know you're a special player."

It is with different eyes that Theodore has studied Price since the latter's arrival in the NHL, and he knew that many sharply disagreed with his sometimes harsh analysis of a fellow goalie who clearly today is the cornerstone of the Canadiens franchise.

"When Carey was younger, people thought I was critical of him," Theodore said. "That was just because I was thinking more as a goalie. I could see how good he could be, and how good he should be. I was always saying, 'Yeah, but…'

"I think in 2013-14, but especially 2014-15, he reached a point where I could say, 'OK, this is where Carey Price should be.' It's fun to see a goalie, or any player for that matter, really reach their full potential. Now, he's just in a league of his own."

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