Should Canadiens let Carey Price play again this season?

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On Monday night, Carey Price made his return to the Canadiens lineup after he missed 13 games with a concussion. Price didn’t play in last night’s game against the Panthers, but the fact that he dressed as the backup means it’s just a matter of time before he ends up back between the pipes.

Under normal circumstances, this would be great news for the Habs, but most fans don’t want to see him suit up again this season. With nine games to go and the team way out of playoff contention, some don’t understand why Montreal would risk playing him in meaningless games.

It’s important to remember that Price has had his share on injuries over the last few seasons. Still, that won’t stop Claude Julien from using his franchise goaltender down the stretch.

“I don’t think that’s the right approach or the right example to set for players,” Julien said of shutting Price down for the season.

“He’s healthy, he wants to play. He’s not coming back at 90 percent, he’s 100 percent healthy right now. You can’t hold a player back, especially a player like Carey, and tell him you’ll miss the next 10 games. I don’t think that’s the right message to send.”

Shutting Price down for the rest of the season certainly makes sense in theory. His eight-year, $84 million extension kicks in at the start of next season and the Canadiens don’t have anything to gain by letting him play this year. On the flip side, it’s easy to understand why Price would want to play.

First, he’s a competitor. Most athletes would prefer to play if they’re fully healthy. They clearly don’t approach these situations the same way fans do. They’re professionals, they want to win and sitting on the sidelines as a precaution is unnatural to them.

Second, he may not want to go an entire offseason wondering how his head will respond to a live game. If he comes back, plays a couple of games, stays healthy and plays well, there will be nothing to wonder about over the summer months.

Third, like his team, he’s had a pretty bad year. He owns a 15-22-6 record with a 2.98 goals-against-average and a .904 save percentage. Some of that is on the play of the players in front of him, but don’t get it twisted, he’s been mediocre, too.

The Risk

So, we’ve gone through the reasons why he should play. Now, we’ll look at the obvious risk of allowing him to see game action.

Anytime any NHL player steps on the ice, there’s a risk that he could get injured. For Price, those concerns have to be magnified. The 30-year-old is just two years removed from a knee injury that cost him several months and he’s been sidelined on two different occasions this season (10 games for a lower-body injury, 13 games with a concussion).

If the Canadiens were in the chase for a playoff spot, there would be no argument here. Everyone would want him back as soon as possible. Unfortunately for Montreal, they’re 18 points behind New Jersey for the final Wild Card spot in the East. So in other words, it ain’t happening.

There are legitimate points on both sides of the argument. It’s easy to see why some people aren’t interested in having him play out the season. The reasons for him to get back in action are also simple.

In the end, none of this will matter…unless he gets hurt.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.