Canadiens’ Price set ‘to take it step by step’ with injury

MONTREAL — When it comes to playing again, Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price still has a long way to go.

There are also some important steps along the way.

Sidelined by a lingering knee injury, the 35-year-old Price is on long-term injured reserve and there is no timetable for his return. Price said Monday that his focus has been on his day-to-day life rather than the potential end of his 15-year NHL career.

“We’ll have to go one step at a time. I have no plans to retire at this point,” he said. “Right now my goal is just to be pain free day to day. I still have trouble going up and down stairs and carrying my kids up stairs is difficult.

“So my first priority is just to get my body to a place where I’m not in pain in my day-to-day life and go from there.”

Price helped Montreal reach the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals — a surprising run that began with wins over two Canadian teams and then the Vegas Golden Knights — and then suffered numerous setbacks in his return to the game. He underwent knee surgery and sought help from the NHLPA/NHL Player Substance Abuse Program last year.

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In June, he won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL player who best demonstrates the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication.

Price appeared in just five games last season as the Canadiens fell from a Stanley Cup finalist position. He then got a second opinion on his knee injury in Pittsburgh and the suggestion was another surgery.

The veteran said he “didn’t like” the idea and called the procedure “intrusive”.

“The operation is called OATS,” Price said. “Basically, they take a plug of cartilage and bone from the bottom of your knee and put it in the area where the cartilage is damaged. It’s pretty serious and the success rate is above 50%, and from a pessimistic perspective it’s like, ‘Well, there’s a 50% chance that it can’t fail or 30% chance or whatever.’

“It’s something, unless I absolutely needed it to go through life, that I might think about at the time, but right now I’m looking at my little kids and playing with them day in and day out is the most important thing to me. “

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For now, Price continues to rehabilitate the injury — a long, tedious process that has yet to succeed.

“That was the really frustrating part, but I’ve talked to a few people who have had this type of injury and it took them over a year to start feeling back to normal,” Price said. “So I’m still holding out hope. There’s a possibility of another shot, but we’ll have to see. We just have to keep trying to sort it out, but that surgery is a bit of a concern for me.”

There is no room left with Price’s name in the Canadiens locker room at the Bell Centre. It’s a significant change for Montreal veterans like Brendan Gallagher, who has lived through the ups and downs of the team’s recent history alongside Price.

“It’s different looking down and not having him here. He’s really been the focal (point) of this team, this organization for so many years,” Gallagher said. “It’s different, but I’m just lucky to have spent years with him, and he’s made me look good a lot of nights. I’d never say that to his face, but I owe him one or two.”

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Price considers himself to be in a “grey zone” when it comes to being part of the team. He was introduced to a standing ovation at the Bell Center as a non-player for the Canadiens during the Oct. 12 season opener. The fifth overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft said he is still trying to find a balance between staying close to the team as an injured player and respecting his teammates’ space.

“Any injured guy will tell you it’s a weird position,” Price said. “You feel like you’re part of the team, but you don’t feel like you’re part of the team.

“I don’t want to be there every day and waste resources day in and day out. These guys come in here and work hard every day. They see the coaches every day and I don’t want to hinder their progress. I’m not going to be a part of that process this season so I feel like I’m on road. I’ll be there, I miss being with the boys.”

Montreal is 3-3 and has allowed 18 goals this season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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