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Eyes on the Price: Time to get back to work

The Canadiens and Claude Julien hope that the bye week was just what Carey Price needed

Winnipeg Jets v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Although the celebration was tempered by the Canadiens’ 3-1 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg on Saturday, Habs’ fans seemed genuinely relieved that Carey Price looked like Carey Price again in Montreal’s first game under Claude Julien, part deux.

It certainly seemed that there was a different vibe emanating from the Habs crease than there was leading into the bye week. Price had clearly struggled in Colorado and Arizona, and even recently dismissed Michel Therrien was reported as saying that his goaltender needed some time off.

Simply being “tired” is an oversimplification of what may have been going on, though physical fatigue could certainly have been an issue. Price missed nearly a year of competitive hockey, had his preseason disrupted by the World Cup, and began the season with a severe flu. It’s reasonable to expect that he might “hit a wall” at some point during the long NHL season. Off the ice, a new baby, no matter how adorable, introduces a permanent, unpredictable psychological variable into any new father’s life, regardless of what he does for a living.

Individual physical and off-ice factors weren’t the only ones at play, though. The Canadiens’ 4-0 loss in Boston on February 12 provided a microcosm of the Habs’ worsening defensive coverage woes.

Even at 5-on-5, the Bruins were able to complete this cross-ice pass to a wide open Adam McQuaid.

Boston also notched one on the power play with a simple cross-crease 2-on-1 against the Habs’ increasingly ineffective diamond penalty kill setup.

And, of course, who could forget this?

In summary, it would appear that Carey Price was dealing with a lot of stuff.

One of my favorite articles on the potential intangibles in hockey is this one, by Stefan Wolejszo, about cognitive fatigue. (Don’t hold it against Stefan that he’s a Senators fan. He has a sociology degree, a PhD in Criminology, and he has very interesting takes on the application of psychological and sociological principles to hockey analytics. Take a look. It’s sciency!)

Goaltenders are among the most likely athletes in any sport to be susceptible to this kind of intangible work-related fatigue. The role requires confidence in the face of adversity, constant positional calculation and adjustments, multi-variable anticipation, and persistent, unrelenting pressure. Even though their results may well be tied to the performance of the team in front of them, they are judged, and they judge themselves, on their performance as individuals. Carey Price is about as cool a customer as there is in hockey, but it’s naive to think that his ability to perform at his peak is immune to the same combination of physical, personal, and team factors that can affect anyone else involved in a high-stress profession.

Whoever mans the crease for the Montreal Canadiens willingly carries the hopes of an entire city, not to mention rafters full of ghosts, on his back every time he takes the ice. It’s a lot to demand, even of the well-paid guy who asked for the gig.

However, it also comes with the territory. This psycho-sociological discussion may help explain what we saw heading into the bye week, but the Habs now find themselves in a playoff dogfight, and they need Carey Price.

That guy needed a break, and he got one. It’s time to get back to work.