MONTREAL, QC. — Now that the NHL preseason is coming to an end, finally Montreal Canadiens fans around the world can return to their favourite winter hobby: Loving or hating Carey Price!
In the long and distinguished history of “Le Club de Hockey des Canadiens de Montréal”, it can be argued that few players have received such polarizing treatment as Carey Price. Yes there have been many players who were loved and admired by the Montreal fan base. As there have been players who have been hated and booed in their own arena. But has there ever been anyone who seems to be both at the exact same time?
What’s even more interesting with this love-hate relationship between Carey and the Habs faithful is that it seems to me to be an even split. Of course, this is anecdotal only, not proven by any scientific method, but just by my impression of general conversations overheard during the season. For every person that will defend the netminder to the death, there is one who will cast stones at him.
On October 1st, Carey Price will begin his seventh season with Canadiens. Besides his first season, where he was clearly the backup to Cristobal Huet, this will be his sixth season as the number one goalie of the team, on paper. However in this time, this is also the fourth time that Price goes into a season with his job as starter and for many his career with the Habs on the line. Each time the B.C. native has had to prove that he is up to the challenge.
Starting in 2007-2008 during his rookie season, many began to turn on Price for getting the starting position after fan/media favourite Cristobal Huet was traded at the trade deadline. This is where the “hating” for Carey Price began. He was too young to be handed “the keys to the castle”, is what many fans said. Carey could not be as good as Cristobal. But young Carey did his best to prove them wrong.
He finished the season strong and helped the Habs to win the Eastern Conference title. However that was quickly forgotten when the Canadiens were eliminated in five games by the Philadelphia Flyers. This after being taken to seven games by the eighth seed Boston Bruins. The critics quickly came out saying Price could not be number one in Montreal. He didn’t win the Stanley Cup in his rookie season like Patrick Roy did, they all lamented. So going into his second season as an NHL’er, Price was going to have to face his first challenge and show he could be number one.
The 2008-2009 season began as well as any Price fan could have hoped for. He was in fine form and was playing like a top goaltender in the NHL. Finally he was going to silence his naysayers. But that was too good to be true. An injury just before the All-Star break was the beginning of the end of the short lived love affair for Carey and some of his haters. After coming back from his injury, he wasn’t the same goalie as he had been in the first half of the season. The Habs made the playoffs but were swept in four games. That’s all that was needed for the “Carey is no good” bandwagon to be filled again. All the same questions from the previous year returned. Carey was going to face challenge number two in terms of being the Montreal Canadiens number one goalie going into the 2009-2010 season.
That season might have been a major turning point in his career. Price’s numbers were not very good in 2009-2010, and even worse, he was not the starting goalie when the playoffs began. Enter Jaroslav Halak and his magical run during the 2010 playoffs. Halak was working his way into the hearts of everyone in Montreal and by the same token running Carey out of Montreal. The Habs were eliminated in the Conference final but had they had finally found a superstar goalie? Some claimed Jaro was the future and Price was as good as gone. Well that is until a sunny day in June when GM Pierre Gauthier shocked many in the city by trading Halak to the Blues and handing “the keys of the castle” right back to Price. Challenge number three for Carey awaited him at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season. It was back to square one.
That following season was what most consider the best season in Carey’s young career. He put up good numbers. His play was solid and overall not much negative could be said about Price. Yes he wasn’t able to win a playoff round but the Habs did force Boston to seven games that year, losing in overtime of that epic game 7. Nothing to be embarrassed about, especially since Boston went on to win the Cup.
Finally, Price had put the debate to rest. He began the 2011-2012 season the solid number one and there was more love going around for him in this city then there had ever been before. He had finally made his mark and now it was smooth sailing right? Well not quite. Price had a good season considering the Habs finished 15th. But with all the “shenanigans” that went on with management that year, there wasn’t much hate thrown in Price’s direction. Pierre Gauthier was doing a great job of selfishly taking on the brunt of all the hate from the Habs’ fans on his own shoulders. For a second year in a row, no challenge awaited Carey heading into a new season. The whole team was in the spotlight for 2012-2013.
We all know how last season went for Number 31. Great start and a horrible end. The Habs hobbled into the playoffs as the number two seed in the Conference and were bounced by the Ottawa Senators in five games. All the haters now had a reason to come flocking back to Price. He has only won one playoff series and that was back in his rookie season.
So Tuesday night when the puck drops on center ice and the Bell Centre to kick off the 2013-2014 season, Price will be facing challenge number four in terms of showing he could be the Habs superstar goalie. Without a doubt this season will be the most important of his career. With not only the pressure of Montreal on his shoulders, Carey also begins the season with visions of being number one for Team Canada at the Olympics. If there was ever a year he needs to stand and finally take his place as one of the best goalies in the NHL, this is the year. If he doesn’t it won’t only be a city he is letting down but maybe a whole country.
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