BROSSARD, Que. – These days, Carey Price is more likely to deliver a quick one-liner than tired cliche.
The Montreal Canadiens goaltender has been showing another side in recent weeks. The relaxed, confident, joking Price is a big change from the soft-spoken and sometimes defensive demeanour he showed in media interviews in the past.
And it’s very different from the downcast Price of two seasons ago after he lost the starting job and then saw backup Jaroslav Halak become the playoff hero by leading the Canadiens to their first conference final since 1993.
It has come out in the midst of a difficult season in which the Canadiens (21-24-9) are flirting with last place in the NHL Eastern Conference and have little hope of reaching the playoffs.
”I really just want to try to enjoy the game,” Price said Wednesday. ”Even when things aren’t going so well I think, just for mental health reasons, you need to be able to have some fun.
”It is important to keep things in perspective. The easiest way to get over something is to be able to joke around and make fun of yourself.”
Fans caught a glimpse of how loose Price has become at the NHL all-star game last week in Ottawa.
Price had quips for each shooter in the trick-shot breakaway contest, and got some laughs from the crowd by turning his back on one player, and striking a Tim Tebow pose to stop another.
After ending a run of four straight losses in shootouts (his record in shootouts this season is 2-6) in a win over Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, Price had a joke for every question he was asked.
When quizzed about Penguins star Evgeni Malkin’s spinarama goal in the shootout, Price said: ”All I saw were black pants.”
He answered another question by reciting one of the inspirational slogans painted on the dressing wall in a schoolboy voice.
But Price had a serious thought, saying the Canadiens had ”nothing to lose” now that their playoff hopes have dimmed almost to extinction. No one expects them to reach the post-season, so the pressure has lifted. Players can smile again.
”There might be less pressure on us just because not too many people give us a chance,” he said. ”So we just try to play hockey and have fun with it.
”Guys will probably stop gripping their sticks so hard. When you’re in a tough scenario like we were a couple of months ago, where you’re borderline, it makes things harder because of the added pressure. Now that you’re in a scenario where you really don’t have much to lose, you just go out there and try to play your game. We still want to win games. It’s not like we’re trying to lose. But guys are definitely more free.”
Price can’t be blamed for the Canadiens’ woes this season. He’s let in a few stinkers, but mostly he has been solid in goal behind an inexperienced defence and a team that has provided little goal support.
The win over Pittsburgh left the 2005 fifth overall draft pick at 19-19-8 with a decent if unspectacular 2.37 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.
Price seemed a little on the cocky side when he arrived in Montreal in 2007-08 after winning gold with Canada at the world junior championship and helped the Hamilton Bulldogs to an AHL championship.
He had a good rookie campaign, but then had up-and-down periods before going through a kind of catharsis during Halak’s playoff run. Given a vote of confidence when management traded Halak that summer, a more mature and more physically fit Price bounced back with a 38-28-6 season in 2010-11.
Now, when candidates for the 2014 Canadian Olympic team are debated, Price is always mentioned.
”I think he’s getting more comfortable in his role,” said forward Mathieu Darche. ”It was tough two years ago.
”He ends up sitting on the bench watching Jaro be a hero. He had a great year last year and this year if it wasn’t for him, we’d be deeper (in the standings). Everyone wants to play hard for him. That’s one of the reasons you see this team blocking so many shots. I go down and block a shot and then I’m going up the ice and I hear Pricey yelling ‘Atta boy Darchy.’ ”
Darche added with a grin: ”He’s happy you blocked the shot for him, except the easy ones. Then he says ‘You’re hurting my save percentage.”’
The Canadiens will try to win a third game in a row for only the second time this season when they face the Islanders in New York on Thursday night. They meet the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday night.
As bad as their record is, they don’t appear to have thrown in the towel.
”It’s been a different year, I’ve never experienced this,” said Darche. ”Let’s face it, having this in a city like Montreal with the media and fan attention we have, it brings it to a different level.
”But this is where we are. A couple of games ago we were in last place. So let’s have fun, relax a bit and start winning some games.”
Defenceman Yannick Weber, who injured a leg when hip-checked by Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz, is listed as day to day and will not make the road trip.
Winger Travis Moen missed practice because his wife gave birth to their second child, but he will be on the trip.
Defenceman Andrei Markov, who has yet to play this season after knee surgery, skated for 40 minutes but there was no time frame given on when he may return.