Stu Cowan: Not a surprise Canadiens coach is counting on Carey Price

You have to wonder how much clout Dominique Ducharme has with veteran goalie and captain Shea Weber with interim tag attached to job title.

Dominique Ducharme has been put in a tough spot since GM Marc Bergevin decided to fire Julien when the Canadiens had a 9-5-4 record, Stu Cowan writes. Heading into Monday night's game vs. the Oilers, the team had gone 10-9-5 since the change.

It’s not a surprise that Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme decided to start Carey Price in goal again Monday night against the Oilers in Edmonton.

After missing six games with a lower-body injury, Price returned to the net in Saturday’s 4-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre, allowing three goals on 14 shots (the fourth goal was an empty-netter).

“We’re confident with Carey,” Ducharme said after Monday’s morning skate. “I don’t think we gave up that much to Ottawa, but they were good scoring chances … too good. We can do a better job on that and especially from the start. When you start and you give up one early then you’re chasing the game a bit and then sometimes you make bad decisions because you’re forcing the play a little bit too much and then, let’s say, a bad turnover turns out to be a scoring chance and you trail by two. We want everyone to be having a better start, from the goalies to the Ds to the forwards, and play together. I don’t think it’s on Carey, it’s on everyone.”

The Senators scored on their first shot on Price 3:03 into Saturday’s game. They scored again on their eighth shot 13:12 into the second period. The Canadiens outshot the Senators 23-15.

When Price was asked how he felt after the game, he said: “I felt pretty good. Whenever you take a break there’s always a bit of an adjustment period getting back. But I thought the adjustment was really quick.”

This has been a tough season for the 33-year-old Price, who is in the third season of his eight-year, US$84-million contract. Goalie coach Stéphane Waite was fired during the middle of a game last month and Price has been anything but consistent all year. However, Ducharme has continued to rely on Price. Before Price was injured, Ducharme started Price in 12 of his first 17 games behind the bench after taking over from Claude Julien, including three straight starts twice.

Heading into Monday’s game, Price had a 12-7-5 record with a 2.67 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage. Backup goalie Jake Allen had a 7-7-4 record and his goals-against average (2.44) and save percentage (.915) were both better than Price.

Allen has given the Canadiens a chance to win in just about every game he has started, but hasn’t received much support. In 12 of Allen’s 18 starts, the Canadiens have scored two goals or less and they have been shut out three times. The Canadiens have scored an average of 2.28 goals in the games Allen played.

By comparison, heading into Monday’s game the Canadiens had scored two goals or less in only six of Price’s 24 starts and were shut out only once. The Canadiens had scored an average of 3.5 goals in the games Price started.

After Allen allowed three first-period goals in a 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on April 8, the goaltender called his performance “unacceptable.”

“You got to give your team a chance,” Allen said after the game. “I have very high expectations of myself all the time. So no matter what I always think there should be a way to stop the puck. Definitely, I was happy with the way I competed in the rest of the game, but disappointed in the first period, no question.”

Allen’s answer was quite different from Price’s following Saturday’s loss to the Senators.

Ducharme has been put in a tough spot since GM Marc Bergevin decided to fire Julien when the Canadiens had a 9-5-4 record. Heading into Monday’s game, the Canadiens were 10-9-5 under Ducharme, so it certainly looks like coaching wasn’t the big problem.

You have to wonder how much clout a rookie NHL head coach like Ducharme with an interim tag attached to his job title has when it comes to dealing with veterans like Price and captain Shea Weber, who has also been struggling and has said he’d like to get even more ice time than the 22:39 he is averaging. Bergevin added Eric Staal to the veteran mix at the NHL trade deadline and the centre had one goal and was minus-8 in his first eight games with the Canadiens after going minus-20 in 32 games with the Sabres.

It has also become obvious the Canadiens aren’t the same team without the injured Brendan Gallagher in the lineup to lead them.

Bergevin made many good moves during the off-season, bringing in Allen, defenceman Joel Edmundson and forwards Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli and Corey Perry. Since the start of the season, the GM has fired his head coach, associate coach Kirk Muller and his goalie coach.

There’s nothing else Bergevin can do at this point, unless he can figure out a way to work around the NHL salary cap and get Cole Caufield in the lineup.

The Canadiens are going to go as far as their veterans, led by Price and Weber, can carry them. If they don’t go far enough, it’s Ducharme who will probably pay the price.

Somehow, that doesn’t really seem fair.

  1. Canadiens goalie Carey Price has a 12-7-5 record with a 2.67 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage heading into Monday night’s game in Edmonton against the Oilers.

    Canadiens Game Day: Carey Price will be back in goal vs. Oilers

  2. Montreal Canadiens interim head coach Dominic Ducharme watches the last minute of third period against the Calgary Flames behind players Paul Byron, left, Jonathan Drouin and Artturi Lehkonen in Montreal on April 14, 2021.

    What the Puck: Habs' Ducharme stuck between a rock and a hard cap place

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