To be clear, there is never a good time for reigning Hart Memorial Trophy-winner Carey Price to get injured for the Montreal Canadiens.
Of all the horrible, worst-case scenarios that can be thought up by over-active imaginations, having him reaggravate his lower-body injury against the New York Rangers may be the least scary of them all, though.
Dependent On Carey Price
Admittedly, this is all dependent on Price returning in the one week that’s been cited as the expected rehabilitation time.
#Habs Carey Price expected to miss at least one week.
— John Bartlett (@BartsBytes) November 26, 2015
Granted, when he first went down this season against the Edmonton Oilers in late October, he was also expected to (or at least it was stated that he would) only be out one week. He only came back on November 20, against the New York Islanders… the first of his three consecutive wins back in the crease.
Despite the victory and the three weeks spent nursing his wounds, many assumed Price had been rushed back too early based on the way he appeared a little too uncomfortable in the crease. Others hoped it was just rust, but when back-up goalie Mike Condon started the third period against the Rangers, regardless of whether he had come back too soon or not, all fans’ worst fears had been realized.
The Condon Bubble Bursts
While Condon performed admirably during his nine games as the team’s de facto starter, going 5-2-2 and even earning premature buzz for the Calder Memorial Trophy, he did spot opponents three-goal leads in each of his last three games, giving up 13 total in his last four.
That isn’t to say the book is out on Condon, just that, if it were a biography, each ensuing chapter would be in the process of being written by an upcoming opponent. That’s due in part to his struggles of late and the fact he hasn’t been around nearly enough for it to resemble anything other than an incomplete work in progress.
Speaking of work, at the very least it’s fair to assume that Condon, as a back-up, was unfairly deployed over the course of Price’s first stint on IR. No one’s to blame really. All hands were tied, and head coach Michel Therrien had the unenviable task of starting a first-year NHL backup each of the games Price missed.
Well, it was either that or instead start third-stringer Dustin Tokarski, who not only lost the job in training camp but is playing less frequently than first-year-pro Zachary Fucale in the American Hockey League… thereby prompting the question: Which goalie should have been recalled to take Price’s roster spot this time around?
That’s maybe the one drawback to this entire mess… Well, the one drawback now that Price is injured again. That’s admittedly a pretty big one in and of itself.
In any case, Condon will start Friday night against the New Jersey Devils on the road. The Habs also play the Devils Saturday night at home. So, do the Habs play Condon again two straight nights? Or Tokarski on Saturday?
The only point at which the Habs were faced with a similar dilemma the first time around was the night before Price came back to face the Islanders… when Condon lost to the Arizona Coyotes… a loss, combined with it being the first half of a back-to-back, that may or may not have been the basis for the team’s current predicament.
However, if Price does indeed come back in just one week, that will likely be the only one the team faces… with a real crisis having been averted in the process.
Highway to Hell
Fast-forward a week from now. Hell, give it a buffer of a few extra days just for kicks. Then, not only will the Habs be face to face with another set of back-to-back games against the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings (two teams arguably tougher than the Devils), but, should Price not yet be back, deciding who will start each of the two will be the least of Montreal’s worries.
Those two match-ups represent the first two of a critical stretch of 10 straight games (six on the road), during which the team with the weakest record the Habs will face will be the Tampa Bay Lightning at 11-9-3 heading into action Thursday night.
The Lightning, the reigning Eastern Conference champions who swept the Habs last regular season and beat them 4-2 in Round 2 last spring, is also the only team of those 10 to be currently out of a playoff spot.
Needless to say, as bad as it seems now (in spite of Montreal being in first place overall), had Price gone down even a little bit further down the road, instead of, say, ahead of games against the Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Carolina Hurricanes (and, admittedly, Washington Capitals), the Habs would be in a way worse position.
The Real Worst-Case Scenario
Now, the real question is, when Price comes back a second time, will he be 100 percent, or will he have been rushed back yet again? Only time will tell, with the only possible solution if he isn’t ready being that Montreal brace for a tough couple of weeks and just swallow the potential drop down the standings.
At 17-4-2, they can realistically do that, and still finish near the top of the heap. Truth be told, they can play .500 hockey the rest of the season and still finish with 95 points, in line to make the playoffs. It would be less than ideal, of course, but, faced with two extremes, forcing Price to play Friday night or resting him the rest of the season in time for the playoffs, what would you do?
It’s a pretty easy decision in all actuality, even for a hypothetical scenario. Because risking Price’s health for the playoffs? That’s the worst possible time for something like this.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.