WINNIPEG – When your best players are your best players, you win a lot of hockey games. When your best players are also some of the league’s best players, you become pretty tough to beat.
Heading home riding a three-game win streak after knocking off the Oilers, Canucks and Jets in 4-1, 4-1 and 3-0 fashion, respectively, the Canadiens have counted on their big guns to lead the way. When reigning Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban boarded the team charter to kick off the road trip to Western Canada, he had just one assist to his name. He’s coming home leading all NHL defensemen with eight points.
The Habs may have hit their stride offensively in the past week-and-a-half, but the biggest X-factor in the team’s success out west was the stingy play of Carey Price. Easily turning aside 75 of the 76 shots he’s faced in his last two starts, Price earned back-to-back first star honors and his first shutout of the season with his whitewash in Winnipeg.
“Carey has been playing solid hockey from the start but right now, he’s playing inspired hockey,” confirmed Michel Therrien of the three-time All-Star. “It’s good for him and good for his confidence. Right now, Carey is in a good zone; he’s confident. We want him to give us a chance to win games and since the beginning of the year, he’s certainly given us a chance to win.”
Almost as impressive as the 36 Jets shots Price stopped in the outing were the season-high 26 his teammates blocked in front of him. True to form, those were the saves the 26-year-old netminder preferred to focus on following Tuesday’s game.
“I’m not going to take all the credit for our wins,” he stressed. “Anything I didn’t see, we blocked. Any rebounds I let out, we cleared. That’s really the equation for a shutout. We’ve had a lot of sacrifices along the way. We’ve had different guys stepping up with plays at different times during each of these games.
“That was a tough, long road trip for the guys and they really battled,” he added of the team’s longest road swing of the campaign. “You’ve got to give the guys in front of me a lot of credit.”
Already seeing the fruits of new goalie coach Stephane Waite’s labor paying off in his first five starts of the campaign, Price put together one of his strongest performances of the season against the Jets. While he’s not willing to reveal exactly what he’s tweaked in his game early on, he hinted that he’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve.
“I can’t tell you all my secrets,” he joked. “I’m just trying to make everything as simple as possible and be strong positionally. I'm getting a lot of help from my defensemen and forwards. I got lucky a couple of times; they missed a couple of opportunities. I liked that. Most of the stops I made were just about being positionally strong.”
Heading back to Montreal staring down the barrel of a five-game home stand, the Habs aren’t expecting things to get any easier when they get back to the Bell Centre on Thursday.
“We have to make sure we stay on the throttle. We can’t get complacent with where we’re at. It’s easy for teams to think it’s going to be easy once you get home, but I think we have enough experience in this locker room to know that’s not the case.”
Despite sitting fourth in the East with a 4-2-0 record, Price isn’t worried about getting too comfortable with the team’s early success.
“It was important for us to get off to a good start again this year,” he explained. “The key for us is preparation. Every day when we come to the rink, we’re prepared for the next game. That’s been the real key for us, staying focused on the next game. That’s what we’ll continue to do.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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