The morning after the night before: the Carey bomb goes off in Winnipeg

It was time for Carey Price to do what GM Marc Bergevin suggested in a franglais phrase to make a Tongue Trooper weep:

         “Steppez-up!”

         If any player on the Canadiens roster needed to steppez in Winnipeg Thursday night, it was Price.

         Instead, all he managed to do was to steppez on a banana peel and take another epic pratfall in a career that is unraveling like a cheap suit.

         Five goals. A pair of two-goal leads, blown.  At least Price is making it easy for newly minted head coach Dominique  Ducharme.

         In the wake of the stink bomb Price laid in Winnipeg, Ducharme doesn’t have to lose any sleep turning and tossing and wondering if a rookie coach can get away with scratching the “star” goaltender.

         The question is whether Ducharme can get away with playing Price and the answer is a thunderous “no!”

         If Price is still capable of playing like an $84 million goaltender, he’s hiding it well. If there’s a superstar behind that perpetually sullen exterior, then he’s been kidnapped and replaced by a dude whose play ranks somewhere between André “Red Light” Racicot and Keith “You’re Killing Us” Kinkaid.

         Face it. Price has been rancid. Rotten. Awful. Bottom-of-the-barrel bad – and even then, he’s the leak in the bottom of the barrel. He can’t keep his team in games. He can’t protect leads.

         Let’s not have any nonsense about loser points. Carey Price is 5-7 on the season with a 3.13 goals-against, 52nd in the league, and an .888 save percentage. That save percentage has him a whisker behind Ottawa’s Matt Murray and 63rd in the league – but Murray has been able to right himself after a brutal start to the season.

         Price? Not so much.

         And don’t tell me it’s on Price’s teammates. The gulf between Price and alleged “backup” Jake Allen is enormous. Allen has a .932 save percentage, tied for eighth in the league, and a 2.14 goals-against, good for 11th.

          Right now, Price wouldn’t even rank as one of the league’s better backups.

         Yeah, there have been mistakes in front of him, like Shea Weber Thursday (speaking of guys who aren’t earning their salary) going to cover a player who’s already covered and leaving his man wide open.

         But there are always mistakes. That’s why you have goalies – to stop the shot that comes after you make the mistake.

         Instead, what the Canadiens get is the Price we saw in Ottawa Tuesday. Tyler Toffoli gives his team a 4-3 lead and almost before fans had sat back on their couches, there was Price dealing with Brady Tkachuk.

         Now Tkachuk is a player. He can beat you. But this time, the best the could  do is a half-hearted push with only his left hand on the stick.

         Price had time to take le break, sip a little espresso, and then slide over to stop a punk that was coming slower than Friday afternoon.

         And he flat blew it.

         Game tied 4-4, the Canadiens somehow survive overtime and Price can’t stop a beach ball in the shootout.

         And that was just a warmup for his wipeout in Winnipeg.

         Enough. Seriously. Big Surly isn’t earning the .5 on his $10.5 million salary, much less playing like a guy who is supposed to be the cornerstone of your franchise. If you haven’t seen enough, you haven’t been watching.

If it was only this season, there would be a good argument for playing Price until he sorts himself out, but this isn’t a new development. Price hasn’t had a really stellar full season in six years, since 2014-2015. Some of it was due to injuries but he simply hasn’t played well. Acceptable in 2016-2017, bad the next season, decent in 2018-2019, awful during the last campaign.

Throw out his performance in the bubble last season and we haven’t seen vintage Price since Barack Obama was president.

It’s time Price took a break. If it’s still possible for him to reset, then he needs to go sit on a mountaintop and meditate, maybe ask himself if he cares enough to go on playing the game, because it sure doesn’t look that way. If the answer is yes, then let him get back to work and prove he deserves to start.

         A little more than 14 years ago, I flew to Pittsburgh (and spent six hours sitting on the tarmac in Philadelphia en route because thunderstorms were rolling through the area) to cover Price’s first game in the NHL.

         That night, Price showed much of what he would be – loads of talent, coupled with a tendency to be a little lackadaisical at times. His career did not start with a bang, like Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy. Instead, he struggled off and on until he was almost at the mid-career point, when he finally blossomed into the world-class goaltender he was supposed to be.

         But if this goes on, Price is done way ahead of schedule. He’s only 33 – not young but not old by the standards of Roy or Brodeur or Dominik Hasek or even Johnny Bower.

         The Canadiens now have no back-to-back games now until March 10 and 11 in Vancouver and Calgary. If Allen keeps playing as he has, there’s no reason to give Price a start before then.

         Let Price start in Vancouver and show off for his homies. Better still, with some maneuvering on Bergevin’s part, maybe the Canadiens can leave Big Surly on the Left Coast and bring Braden Holtby back with them, trading problems with the Canucks.

         Because anything is better than this. Price has already cost one coach his job in this shortened season. The Canadiens can’t afford to let him go for two.

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