On January 21, Carey Price skated for 40 minutes, after which it was declared that the Vezina award winner will be out for another 3-4 weeks – putting his earliest return at February 12, away to the Buffalo Sabres.
Montreal will continue to be cautious with their MVP goalie, so the latest return date – February 19 versus Philadelphia – looks more likely.
Here’s the news that Habs fans will not want to hear. Rotoworld, sourcing Montreal hockey journalist Richard Labbe, claim that: “If the Canadiens are not in the playoff hunt in three-four weeks, they may choose to shut Carey Price down for the season.”
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Will Montreal be out of the race by February 19?
After 50 games, the Canadiens stand fifth in the Atlantic Division and three points away from Pittsburgh – who are on 55 points and have played 48 games.
Prior to Price’s latest return date, Montreal has eight games. Four of these games are against teams who place above them in the overall rankings – Carolina, Tampa Bay, Arizona and Colorado – and the other four place below their 20th spot in the overall standing – Philadelphia, Edmonton and Buffalo twice.
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With Price out, the Habs have been using Mike Condon, Ben Scrivens and Dustin Tokarski – now of the Anaheim Ducks. The three netminders have combined for a record of 14-20-4, which gives them a win percentage of 37% and a point percentage of 47%.
Given the opposition, Montreal could hit their 47% point rate with a record of 3-4-1, but their current form doesn’t give them much hope. In their last ten games, the Habs have gone 2-7-1 – which includes back-to-back losses of 5-2 against Columbus.
However, Arizona (49 games), Carolina (51 games) and Colorado (51 games) are all close to Montreal in the standings, so they could be onto a win for those three of their eight games.
If they can improve their form, and beat the lesser opposition, then they could be on 59 points by the time that Price comes back to the crease. But will that be enough?
A lot of pressure on Carey Price
Montreal has 24 games scheduled from the Feb. 19 match-up against Philly – only two of which are tired games – meaning that there would be 46 points available for the Canadiens after Price’s latest anticipated return date.
Carey Price has only played 12 games this season, but he won ten of them, giving him an 83% win rate. If he was to come back and play all but the tired games (22/24), whilst keeping his earlier season form, Price could pull off an 18-2-2.
This seems incredibly unlikely given Montreal’s current form and the fact that Price hasn’t played since November 25. Price playing 19/24 games seems more reasonable. Given the calibre of the 28-year-old shot-stopper, a record of 14-3-2 wouldn’t be beyond reason.
Tallying the predicted points together – 52 current points, with seven more prior to Price’s return – getting a further 30 points on top of the 59 may still not be enough to grab a playoff spot.
Minimum playoff requirements
89 points have not been enough to make the playoffs for five seasons – when Philly and the Habs made the post-season with 88 points in 2009/10.
Over Price’s possible 24 games, 15 are against Eastern Conference teams and seven are against teams that are currently occupying Montreal’s potential playoff spots. So the returning keeper will have to be on top form to claim all 14 points in those rival match-ups.
If Montreal can breach the 59 point mark before Carey Price returns they would still be in with a shot of making the post-season. If they fail to make that benchmark then it would probably be best to shelf their star player, to ensure that he doesn’t sustain any further injuries.
It would require a complete flip in form from the Habs skaters, but if Ottawa could suddenly win 21 of their last 27 games last season then the Canadiens certainly can – provided that Price stays fit.