Carey Price has turned down an invitation to play for Team Canada at the IIHF Hockey World Championship next month in Slovakia and for good reason.
“I feel like I’ve played a lot of hockey over the last couple of months and I have a young family at home that I’d like to stay with over the course of the next month,” Price said Tuesday as the Canadiens cleared out their lockers in Brossard after failing to make the playoffs for the second straight season.
Price was a big reason why the Canadiens missed the playoffs last year with his worst season in the NHL, posting a 16-26-7 record with a 3.11 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage. This year Price was a big reason for the Canadiens’ 25-point improvement in the standings, coming up two points short of the final playoff spot in the first season of an eight-year, US$84-million contract. Price finished the season with a 35-24-6 record, a 2.49 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.
“Obviously, I hit a lot of milestones this season, so it was a really fun season in that sense,” said Price, who moved past Jacques Plante into first place on the Canadiens’ all-time win list for goalies with 321. “But at the end of the day, with all that accomplishment and all the success that we had and still come short the way we did is still very disappointing.”
The Canadiens leaned heavily on Price down the stretch with him making 13 consecutive starts and playing in 28 of 29 games before being given the night off in the season finale, replaced by Charlie Lindgren.
“I enjoyed it,” Price said about his heavy schedule. “We were managing my practices well. It is fatiguing, sure. But at the end of the day, I had a lot of fun during that stretch.”
The reason Price had to play so much is that the Canadiens lost all confidence in backup goalie Antti Niemi, who allowed seven goals on 33 shots in his last two games, both losses. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin confirmed Tuesday that Niemi won’t be back next season.
“Antti is the partner that I respected the most out of all the partners that I’ve had,” Price said. “Just the way he carried himself this whole season. He’s a guy that’s a champion and I have the utmost respect for Antti.”
Price had his own struggles early in the season with what he will still only describe as a “lower-body injury.”
“We all deal with nagging injuries throughout the season,” he said. “It was one of those things where it bugged me for a while, but I eventually got over it.
“We went through like a three-week stretch there earlier in the season that was tough,” Price added about his play. “We just sat down and did some video. I feel like from that point on I kind of rediscovered myself, I guess, and found that belief in myself to get back to where I need to be.”
Price had a 6-2-1 record in his last nine games while allowing 18 goals on 270 shots for a .933 save percentage. He showed at age 31 he can still carry the Canadiens on his back.
“Last year was obviously very tough, but this season was also tough because we played so well and still came up short,” Price said. “So at the end of the day, it’s not really that easier. But I think we have a lot more optimism this year. … The guys should have a lot of confidence after a great season and I think moving forward everybody needs to realize what made us successful and continue that.
“We all expect to make the playoffs next season,” Price added. “That should be everybody’s goal while they’re training this summer and preparing.”
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