Habs goalie Carey Price looks to rebound now that Jaroslav Halak’s gone

MONTREAL – A lot went right for Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price this summer, even if he spent much of it thinking about last season’s negatives.

First the Canadiens traded Jaroslav Halak, the man who stole Price’s starting job and led them to the Eastern Conference final.

Then the Anahim Lake, B.C., native signed a US$5.5 million, two-year contract.

Now after a summer of reflection, Price says he’s going into training camp determined to be better in 2010-11.

”It was a really tough time when things weren’t going well,” the netminder said Thursday at the team’s annual charity golf tournament. ”I wasn’t having fun playing.

”That’s something you get over when you get home, because you really see how lucky you are. Coming into this season, I got to spend some time at home and think about what I could be doing instead. This is a lot better alternative.”

Price spent much of the summer at home in northern B.C., working out during the week and competing in rodeos on the weekend.

That allowed him to leave behind a disappointing 2009-10 campaign in which he went 13-20-5 with a 2.77 goals-against average. Halak, meanwhile, posted a 26-13-5 mark with a 2.40 GAA in the regular season before leading the Canadiens to seven-game upsets of Washington and Pittsburgh in the post-season.

The Canadiens felt they couldn’t fit both restricted free agent goalies in under the salary cap, and opted to trade Halak to St. Louis for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. They signed veteran Alex Auld to be Price’s backup.

”We decided as an organization that Carey was our goaltender,” said coach Jacques Martin. ”We’re very confident in his ability to win games.”

Price was all but handed the starting job when he joined the Canadiens as a rookie after leading the Hamilton Bulldogs to an AHL championship and guiding Canada to gold at the world junior hockey championship in 2007.

The NHL has brought a more lows than highs thus far, but Price said he’s learned from his mistakes and is taking a more serious approach.

He spent part of the summer working Canadiens goaltending coach Pierre Groulx in Kelowna, B.C., perfecting technique and also working on the mental aspect of the position.

”We’ve got to stay focused on our goals,” he said. ”We’re going to set goals at the start of the season and every time you step on the ice for a game or a practice you have to keep working towards those goals. If we do that, I think it’ll make the work easier.”

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And Price, the fifth overall draft pick in 2005, wants to stop getting down on himself when things don’t go his way.

”Lows are bound to happen,” he said. ”One thing I learned is that they end eventually, and when you’re in a low, you have to work harder. You can’t pout. That’s something that I’ve learned over the last few years, especially the last two.

”When you’re losing, you have to keep in mind that the game’s still fun. It’s better than working in the bush.”

Although he’s played just three NHL seasons, Price feels like a veteran for all he’s been through. At times he’s used his six-foot-three frame and quick legs to play very well, but other times he’s looked lost in the net.

Rock bottom was likely the 2009 playoffs when he started, even though Halak was playing better and Boston beat Montreal four straight. In the final game, Bell Centre fans booed after two quick Bruins’ goals and Price raised his arms to them in defiance. Being bumped from the starting job last season was another setback.

”I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum,” he said. ”That’s pretty good after my first (three-year) contract. I’ve pretty much seen everything the NHL can dish at me. I think that’s going to help me coming into these next two years.”

It seemed a dig at Price and the Canadiens when Halak turned up in Montreal two weeks ago for a farewell autograph signing and an estimated 10,000 adoring fans turned out. Price didn’t mind, adding Halak earned their respect.

And Canadiens president Pierre Gauthier said he wasn’t bothered by it either.

”Of course I understand there’s going to be emotion around a decision like that,” he said. ”We all fell in love with the club and with certain individuals who did well in the playoffs, so it’s totally understandable.”

Price’s teammates are confident he can help them win.

”We expect him to be very good for us,” said forward Michael Cammalleri. ”We don’t want him to have to be great, but we expect him to be if he has to be.”