“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.
The Montreal Canadiens player under the most pressure is … Carey Price.
OK, Price will probably be under the most pressure of any Montreal player every season until he’s no longer the No. 1. That comes with the territory when you’re the franchise netminder for an organization that’s been spoiled by the likes of Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden. The difference is that he’s coming off one of the worst campaigns of his young career.
Price acknowledged the scrutiny and history in an ESPN the Magazine profile.
“It’s impossible not to notice,” Price says. “I’ve gotten used to it, but every day, they’re there.”
Individual struggles amid team success
The strange thing about the Habs’ shocking 2013 Northeast Division title win is that, in many ways, the team dragged Price to the finish line instead of the other way around.
The 26-year-old’s 21-13-4 record was solid enough, yet his .905 save percentage matched his career-worst regular season mark from 2008-09, and he was weaker in the playoffs (1-2 with an .894 save percentage in Ottawa’s four-game sweep). He really fell apart late in the season, when the spotlight only grew brighter.
Montreal still overachieved by almost anyone’s expectations, but Habs fans won’t be so patient if this turns out to be more than an off-year for Price.
Be careful what you wish for
It’s tough enough to struggle in one of hockey’s most passionate markets. The fact that Price is one of the highest-paid NHL goalies with a $6.5 million cap hit only intensifies the pressure.
The 2013 season showed that Michel Therrien’s system and the assets GM Marc Bergevin stockpiled can produce at least one playoff team, even with Price off his game. The negative side is that the Habs aren’t quite the under-the-radar team they were last year, feeding an appetite among fans for a return to contender status.
For the Habs to match last year’s success or even exceed it, it’s nearly certain that they’ll need and expect more from Price.
At least he’s as used to it as any person can get.
For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.