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Road to 315: Carey Price passes his predecessor

Price was drafted into Jose Theodore’s shadow.

Montreal Canadiens v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

On February 7, Carey Price won his 309th regular season game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. This is Part 4 of a 10-part series looking back at Price’s career through the lens of various milestone victories he’s recorded. Each iteration will be posted the day after one of the final 10 victories it takes him to pass Jacques Plante as the goalie with the most wins in Canadiens history.

Check out Part 3 here.

Win #142: April 1, 2013

Montreal Canadiens 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1

The most shocking aspect of the Montreal Canadiens selecting Carey Price fifth overall in the 2005 Entry Draft might have been the degree to which it flew in the face of the idea of drafting for need.

Goalie was simply not a position the Habs needed help in, and when GM Bob Gainey and head scout Trevor Timmins failed to use the club’s highest pick in decades on filling a pressing need — like, say, drafting a big center with No. 1 potential — it was a head-scratcher for fans and pundits alike.

The biggest reason goaltending wasn’t a position the Habs needed help at was a man named Jose Theodore. A homegrown product hailing from Laval, Quebec, Theodore had been drafted 44th overall in the 1994 Entry Draft, and after three consecutive seasons as a backup (the first behind Andy Moog; the second two behind Jeff Hackett), had broken through as the number one goalie in the 2000-01 season.

The following year, he shocked the league with a Vezina- and Hart-winning season, going 30-24-10 with 7 shutouts, a 2.11 goals against average and a mammoth .931 save percentage.

The Canadiens were unable to capitalize on their goalie’s strong season in the playoffs that year, though — they were bounced in the second round by Arturs Irbe and the upstart Carolina Hurricanes after Theodore surrendered 14 goals on 84 shots over the final three games of the series.

The following year, they missed the playoffs the following, but Theodore rebounded in 2003-04 with another strong season, going 33-28-5 with 6 shutouts, a 2.27 GAA and a .919 save percentage. Again, the Canadiens made it to the second round, this time being swept by a Cup-bound Tampa Bay Lightning team.

Coming off a three-year stretch that saw him put up the best season by a Canadiens goalie since Patrick Roy and drag the hapless Canadiens to the second round twice, there was no reason to suspect what would happen to Theodore’s play after he and his teammates returned from the lockout that ate up the 2004-05 season.

As a career 2.52 goals-against average, .914 save percentage goalie, seeing his stats balloon up to 3.14 and .892 through the first three months of the season was unexpected enough — but with a 16-12-5 record, he was hardly the anchor around the Canadiens’ neck you might expect.

It didn’t help that GM Bob Gainey, who signed Theodore to a three-year deal with an AAV of $6 million that offseason, fired head coach Claude Julien — reportedly over his decision to hand the crease to backup Cristobal Huet — in mid-January 2006. But a particularly bleak stretch later that month spelled the end. Over the course of four games from January 21st to January 31st — his final four with the Canadiens — he allowed 18 goals in 128 minutes of ice time, on just 63 shots.

A few weeks after Theodore fractured his heel in an off-ice accident in mid-February during the Olympic break, Gainey swung a deal with Colorado GM Pierre Lacroix to ship the injured goalie to the Colorado Avalanche for a healthy David Aebischer, in a swap of two struggling goalies who might both benefit from a change of scenery.

And just like that, the Jose Theodore era was over in Montreal. He’d put up just 141 wins over the course of a decade, but he was the first Canadiens goalie to win the Vezina since Patrick Roy in 1992.

Apart from being a powerful lesson in the importance of drafting the best player available, rather than to fill specific organizational holes, Theodore’s quick fall from grace set the stage for the rapid ascent of Carey Price, who’d been drafted just seven months earlier.

When Price passed Theodore’s career win total with the Canadiens a little over seven years later, it made it a real thumb in the face of a certain media analyst who shall not be named who openly criticized the selection when it was made on the grounds that the Canadiens were already set in goal.

It happened with little fanfare — as of this writing, the phrase “Price passes Theodore” returns zero Google hits — on April Fool’s Day, 2013. Price was late in the stages of what was a down year for him in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season; after two strong post-Halak seasons, his save percentage dropped to a mediocre .905, though he still managed to post a respectable 21-13-4 record in a season that saw his teammate P.K. Subban take home the Norris Trophy.

Still, Price was coming off one of his frequent shutouts of the New York Rangers when the Canadiens greeted the visiting Hurricanes, and that night he turned in another solid, if unspectacular performance. Despite going down 1-0 in the game’s first few minutes, the Canadiens wound up outshooting the ‘Canes 28-19, getting a pair of goals from Max Pacioretty and one each from Andrei Markov and journeyman centre Jeff Halpern to march to a 4-1 victory.

It was just another night at the office for Price — he’d go 3-7-0 to finish out the season, before the Canadiens were dispatched in the first round by the Ottawa Senators — but it moved him past Theodore, his spiritual predecessor in the Canadiens crease; the last man who could truly claim to be a franchise goalie in Montreal.

From then on, the only greats he still had to pass were already retired. He would be chasing ghosts for the rest of his career.

Carey Price Win Tracker:

Current Wins: 309
Earliest Price could tie Plante: February 19th vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Earliest Price could pass Plante: February 21st vs. Philadelphia Flyers