The horrific injury suffered by Montreal Canadiens teammate Max Pacioretty has taken much of the edge off what was supposed to be one of the biggest games of the season for goaltender Carey Price—a head-to-head meeting with former rival Jaroslav Halak.
The Canadiens visit the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night, but Price’s mind has been elsewhere.
”With everything that happened to Patch, it’s an afterthought right now,” Price said Wednesday.
Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and fractured vertebra in his neck after being checked into the partition between the players benches by Boston’s Zdeno Chara during a 4-1 win Tuesday night. He’ll be out indefinitely.
Many fans had circled the date of the only meeting between the Canadiens and Blues this season to see the former teammates face one another in goal.
Price had the starting job taken from him by Halak late last season. The 25-year-old Slovak eventually became one of the most popular players in town when he took the Canadiens to the NHL Eastern Conference final.
But last June, general manager Pierre Gauthier decided Price was the goalie of the future and traded Halak to St. Louis for forwards Lars Eller and Ian Schultz.
Since then, Price has blossomed into one of the league’s top goalies with a 32-21-6 record, 2.31 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.
Halak is a more modest 19-17-6 with a 2.63 GAA and .907 save percentage in 43 games for the Blues.
Halak returned this week after missing 11 games with a right hand injury and was expected to start both Wednesday night against Columbus and then versus Montreal. He declined to comment to St. Louis reporters on facing Montreal in order to focus on the Blue Jackets.
Canadiens coach Jacques Martin does not announce who his starting goaltenders will be. He may yet decide it’s a good time to start backup Alex Auld and save Price for Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh.
In either case, Price played down the event.
”It’s just one more hockey game,” he said. ”We’re going to play each other many times, hopefully over who knows how long.
”It’s not so much me versus him. It’s two teams playing each other.”
And he said it will likely be a bigger deal when Halak returns to Montreal, perhaps next season.
”It’s kind of under the radar in Missouri,” Price said.
It will be a big night for Eller, the 21-year-old centre who has been on fire of late after a slow opening two-thirds of his rookie season. Eller scored twice against Boston to give him four goals and an assist in his last five games.
He has seven goals and eight assists in 62 games.
Eller’s line with Andrei Kostitsyn and Travis Moen has been one of Montreal’s most productive of late.
”It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Eller. ”It’s something I’ve looked forward to a long time.
”I only played seven games for the Blues but I was part of that organization for three years and I still have a lot of friends there. But the most important thing still is to get the two points.”
Schultz is playing for the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs and has no points and 28 penalty minutes in 34 games.