Canadiens need Carey Price at his best to stop losing streak

MONTREAL — Brendan Gallagher stood at his stall and stated the obvious after his Montreal Canadiens embarrassed themselves for a second straight game.

“We are going to have to fight our way out of this,” Gallagher said after an 8-1 loss to the visiting Boston Bruins, Montreal’s most bitter rival and a team that’s now 10 points ahead in the Atlantic Division standings.

“We” is the royal we in this case. As in everyone. Not just the 12 forwards and six defencemen, who were “unfocused” according to Canadiens coach Claude Julien, but also the guy wearing No. 31.

You know, the goaltender who has a $15-million salary this season.

If the Canadiens are going to fight their way out of a five-game losing streak in short order, Carey Price is going to have to play like he’s their best player.

On this night, Price wasn’t Montreal’s worst. But he was far from being their best.

And, to be perfectly honest, Price hadn’t been their best in more than a handful of the 23 games the Canadiens played prior to Tuesday’s game.

That wasn’t a damning issue, though.

The Canadiens came into Tuesday’s game with an 11-7-5 record and a hold on third place in the Atlantic Division despite playing defensively porous hockey since the puck dropped in October. Price didn’t have to be a saviour for them to put themselves in that spot.

But after Saturday’s humbling loss to the Rangers — again, a fourth consecutive loss — what’s clear in hindsight is that the team’s confidence took a hit. The evidence mounted in the first period when the Canadiens out-shot the Bruins 13-8 and out-chanced them handily but allowed three goals.

They needed Price to be their parachute.

They needed him to make the kind of saves most goaltenders aren’t capable of — first on Jake DeBrusk, who had a wide-open chance in the slot off a tick-tack-toe play on the power play, and then on a one-timer from the league’s most lethal shooter (David Pastrnak), and lastly on Brad Marchand’s 17th goal of the season, which was scored from the lip of the crease after Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry coughed up the puck behind Price’s net.

He wasn’t able to do it.

Price couldn’t reasonably be expected to make all of those saves. Nobody could. But making one would have made a difference.

It would have made a difference if he had been able to stop Pastrnak from scoring eight seconds into the second period, too. The 32-year-old was there, but his focus was somewhere else. Just as it was on an Anders Bjork breakaway-goal that made it 5-1 Bruins 31:10 into the game.

It turned out to be the last shot Price faced on the night before being pulled for the first time in 112 games.

“I would say that he’s a part of our team and we weren’t good enough tonight, so I think we know Carey is capable of being better. It wasn’t all his fault, but I can’t say he was excellent either,” said Julien about the decision to replace Price with Keith Kinkaid.

He was right. They were bad, and Price wasn’t much better. So, they all watched Pastrnak finish with three goals to bring his total to an NHL-leading 23 and the Bruins laugh their way to the dressing room just seconds after someone from the crowd threw a white towel on the ice.

Now all that matters is what comes next.

As Julien said after Tuesday’s game, the Canadiens are making extremely costly errors and that’s a problem that doesn’t get fixed overnight. But Price has shown in the past he’s capable of authoring a dramatic turnaround.

“I’ve been in this game long enough to know that you can’t pout your way out of a scenario like this one,” said Price.

Experience counts in these situations. This is his 13th season in the NHL. He is the winningest goaltender in Canadiens history, but he has also lost 57 more times than the second guy on the all-time list (Patrick Roy), which is all to say that Price knows how to deal with the ups, downs and wild swings.

As the Canadiens look to rebound as early as Thursday, when the New Jersey Devils visit the Bell Centre, they will need Price to make the difference. They’re going to need a much better performance out of him than what he’s offered through 10 November games, in which he has an .886 save percentage.

If they’re going to reverse their losing ways, they’re going to need Price do exactly what he did last season.

Through 10 games in November of 2018, Price had that same exact .886 save percentage. Then from Dec. 1 through to the end of the season, he tied with Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk for most games played (48), had the second-most wins (28), had the fifth-best save percentage (.925) and fourth-best goals-against average (2.25) of any goalie that made at least 30 appearances.

Price can do it again and he must do it again.

“It’s never easy going through these types of situation,” he said.

But Price has made a career of facing them head on and that’s a comfort to him right now.

“I think every goalie will tell you there’s times where you just go through a tough spell,” he said. “I’m not panicking or anything like that. So, it’s just back to the drawing board and it starts in practice tomorrow.”