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Road to 315: Price Ties Plante

The 31-year-old Canadiens goalie makes history.

Montreal Canadiens v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Recently, Carey Price won his 314th regular season game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, tying Jacques Plante as the goalie with the most wins in Canadiens history. This is Part 9 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 Plante.

Check out Part 8 here.

Win #314: March 5, 2019

Montreal Canadiens 3, Los Angeles Kings 1

Take Carey Price. Put him in Patrick Roy’s equipment. Give him Ken Dryden’s goalie mask, Jacques Plante’s teammates and Georges Hainsworth’s opponents. How many games is he winning?

Now do the reverse. Or mix and match. Or expand your roster. How many games does Alex Auld win with Andy Moog’s D-corps? Is Red Light Racicot getting a different nickname if Toe Blake is behind the bench? How big do Bunny Larocque pads have to be to match Jose Theodore’s Hart-winning numbers?

Comparing players from different eras is a mug’s game. Depending on what you think is more important, any argument is bulletproof or paper-thin — the worst team in the NHL today would beat Maurice Richard’s Canadiens easily; they’re bigger, stronger, faster; their equipment light years ahead. They know moves that hadn’t even been invented yet in the ‘50s; have learned coaching and training strategies that the legendary Canadiens would never get a chance to practice.

And yet, those old guys did win an awful lot of Stanley Cups, and nobody’s putting the 2015-16 Canadiens on any banners, plaques or memorabilia merchandise any time soon. Whatever their competitiveness against hypothetical teams of time-travelling opponents, those teams wiped the ice surface with their opponents 60 years ago.

So from a statistical superiority point of view, it’s hard to know exactly what it means for Carey Price to have tied Jacques Plante as the Canadiens goalie with the most all-time wins.

For every point in Plante’s favour (goals against average, Stanley Cups won), there’s one in Price’s (age at 314th win, increased league competitiveness); for every fact that might sink Price (his total is boosted by 30 shootout wins; had Plante been able to convert some of his 107 ties to wins, he likely would have closer to 400 total), there’s one that devalues Plante’s achievement (over the course of his 11-year Canadiens tenure, the Canadiens were a scoring powerhouse; from 1952-53 to 1962-63, they outscored the next highest-scoring team, the Detroit Red Wings, by a combined 405 goals).

Then there’s this: Plante left the Canadiens in 1963; retired in 1975; passed away in 1986. Even most of the oldest Habs fans today probably never got to see him don the bleu-blanc-rouge in the flesh. For many, insisting Price’s accomplishments just don’t stack up is less about an actual impression of Plante superiority — or even holding onto cherished childhood memories — and more about an insistence that the present could never be more impressive than the past, even when they’re literally witnessing miracles.

Lest we forget, the Montreal Canadiens dropped from second in the league to 22nd from one season to another when Price went down with an injury in early 2015-16; had Price not compiled 10 wins in his 12 starts at the beginning of that season, they likely would have finished much closer to the cellar. Actually, let’s just compare these numbers real quick:

Carey Price vs the Field

Canadiens Goalies, 2014-15 & 2015-16 Record Save Percentage Goals-Against Average Shutouts 82-game Points Pace
Canadiens Goalies, 2014-15 & 2015-16 Record Save Percentage Goals-Against Average Shutouts 82-game Points Pace
Carey Price 54-18-6 0.934 1.98 11 120
Other Goalies 34-42-10 0.904 2.78 1 74

This is a two years of a team that saw essentially zero major roster or coaching changes; those aggregate backup stats were put up by a collection of four goalies (Peter Budaj, Mike Condon, Dustin Tokarski, Charlie Lindgren) who’d either already played in the NHL, went on to play some more in the NHL after that two-year span, or both. None of them are world-beaters, but they weren’t inhumanly bad goalies. The issue is that the Canadiens were not a good team.

That is Price’s impact, distilled down to a snapshot. With him in the crease, a lowly basement dweller racks up wins like a Finals-bound behemoth.

Of course, the man they called the Chicoutimi Cucumber was no slouch either. More than just the inventor and the person who popularized the goalie mask, Plante’s also the current holder of eighth place all-time in regular-season wins (though likely to be passed by Marc-André Fleury shortly), as well as a six-time Stanley Cup winner. His career numbers (2.20 goals-against average, .919 save percentage) would make him a star in any NHL era.

He won the Vezina Trophy — then awarded to the goalie with the fewest goals allowed, like the William M. Jennings Trophy is now — seven times, and the Hart once. In an era when there were only a dozen NHL goalies at any given time, he was the cream of the crop. It’s hard to overstate his success or impact on the game. But it’s also important to let his mythos go a little bit.

If there’s one thing you might hope Price tying Plante’s record might signify, it’s an acceptance of his worth in a historical sense. Price is playing in a league with 62 NHL goalies who’ve spent their whole lives playing, practicing and analyzing the position, and 30 other well-funded franchises vying for the Stanley Cup. The things he’s been able to do in the regular season — and might have done in the playoffs, had not Chris Kreider injured him in 2014 — are impressive enough in their own right.

And at just 31, with seven years left on his current contract, there’s still plenty more time for him to continue rewriting the Canadiens’ record books.

On a Tuesday night in Los Angeles, with the Canadiens in a frantic battle for points as the regular season wends its way toward the playoffs, Price delivered another typical Carey Price performance, stopping 26 of 27 shots en route to a 3-1, backed by goals from Brendan Gallagher, newcomer Jordan Weal, and captain Shea Weber.

And he tied Plante’s wins record. For such a momentous occasion, it was never really in doubt; the lone Kings goal coming midway through the third period, after the Canadiens had established a comfortable 3-0 lead.

And just like that, Carey Price had no one left to catch.

Carey Price Win Tracker:

Current Wins: 314

Earliest Price could pass Plante: March 7th @ San Jose Sharks