Last night, Carey Price won his 306th regular season game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. This is the firt entry in a 10-part series looking back at Price’s career through the lens of various milestone victories he’s recorded. New stories will be posted after each one of the final 10 victories he needs to pass Jacques Plante as the winningest goalie in Canadiens history.
Win #1: October 10, 2007
Carey Price’s relationship with hockey’s most storied franchise, the bleu-blanc-rouge, began in controversy.
After the Canadiens lucked out by snagging the fifth overall pick in the 2005 Entry Draft — the order chosen at random due to the previous season being lost to a lockout — there wasn’t a clear consensus as to whom the Habs would take. But few expected this.
No one captured the surprise Price’s selection engendered better than TSN draft analyst Pierre McGuire upon Trevor Timmins’s fateful selection: “This is right off the reservation! [...] I don’t know about this fit at all for Montreal. They had so many other needs.”
It’s true that selecting a goalie with the club’s highest draft pick since they took Petr Svoboda fifth overall in 1984 was a puzzling move, given that José Théodore was only three seasons removed from claiming both the Hart and Vezina trophies. With Cristobal Huet, Mathieu Garon, and Yann Danis in the pipeline, the Canadiens’ cupboard was far from bare.
But Price’s path from draft day to his first NHL win was a relatively short one — and one studded with accolades. Less than a year after being drafted, he won international gold at the World Juniors and was named the top goalie of the tournament. He followed that up by leading the Hamilton Bulldogs to the Calder Cup in 2007, also being named playoff MVP.
Even with those victories and trophies under his belt, in a league where even highly touted goaltending prospects often didn’t see regular action until their mid-20s, Price becoming an NHL regular soon after his 20th birthday was a bit of a surprise. But there were some who had foreseen he’d be up to the task.
A post-draft day Devoir article, for one, said that while a realistic expectation would be two more years of Junior and then a full year in the AHL, Price was a real talent and “could skip some steps.”
Just over two years later, that prediction came to fruition when Price started the season with the big club. “Pressure and expectations aren’t what rattles this young man,” noted Robert Lefebvre in an EOTP article a month prior to Price’s debut. “He is perfectly suited for the Canadiens steam kettle, more so than any goaltender I can remember not named Dryden or Roy.”
That was prescient. Though Price wouldn’t go on to fulfill the faithful’s dreams of yet another Cinderella-story rookie goaltender carrying the Habs to the Stanley Cup, his transition was about as seamless as it gets for a 20-year-old tender stepping into the net for a team that had finished 10th in the East in the 2006-07 season.
First game or not, stopping 26 of 28 against the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin-led Pittsburgh Penguins — who’d finished fifth in the East the year before and were just a year away from back-to-back visits to the Stanley Cup Final — was no mean feat. Yet as with so many other things, Price made it look easy.
As then-captain Saku Koivu admitted, “If he was nervous, he didn’t show it at all. We took some penalties in the first period so he had to get into the game right away, and he made some key saves, kept us in the game.”
Penguins defenceman Ryan Whitney went one step further: “He won the game for them.”
For starters, in a city where the memories of past greats cast long shadows, winning your first game against the Penguins 22 years to the day after Patrick Roy won his first game (also against Pittsburgh) was a sort of microcosm of how Price’s career would continue to unfold. Even in the pressure cooker of Montreal, his ability to show up and calmly step into the Roy-, Plante- and Dryden-sized skates left for him was evident from game one.
Over the course of his rookie season, Price would go on to wrest the number-one job from Huet, leading GM Bob Gainey to trade his would-be starter to Washington in a surprising deadline deal. But team management was all-in on Price, and the next few years would bear out the wisdom of that decision.