About last night …

While it was great to get a W – and by shutout! – over the team’s playoff nemesis, let’s realize your Montreal Canadiens won the first battle of what is going to be a four-game regular-season war.

I hate the Philadelphia Flyers for their tradition of thuggishness, but there is a lot of talent on that hockey team.

We saw it through 40 minutes, and particularly in the second period, when the Flyers had a 20-8 shot advantage.

Philadelphia’s top nine forwards are better than the Canadiens’. That superiority was obvious over five playoff games last May, and we saw evidence of it again last night.

How does the better team on paper lose 3-0 on the ice?

CA-REY!

In three games prior to visiting the Bell Centre, the Flyers had scored 18 goals. My rapidly-diminishing math skills tell me that’s an average of six per game.

Carey Price allowed six fewer than that average.

 

 

Late in the third period last night, I had a chat with my friend Eric Engels. He asked if I were as suprised as he by how spectacularly Price has begun the season.

I’m not.

Gratified? Yes.

Relieved? Definitely.

Surprised? No, because Price has excelled at every level of hockey he’s played.

Scouts are not blind. Pundits – at least the ones not blinded by pro-Halak bias – are not stupid.

Price is and always has been a great goaltender. He has a rare combination of size, quickness and athleticism.

That’s what knowledgeable hockey people were talking about when Price’s superior upside was cited as the rationale for keeping him and trading Jaro.

But critics were right when they pointed out the woods are full of the bodies of flamed-out pro athletes who had great upside. And not all of them played hockey in a tough town like Montreal.

After the ridiculous booing in the opening minutes of the first exhibition game, Price urged fans to “chill out.” And some knocked him for the perceived nonchalance of the remark.

Know what?

Chilling out is wise under almost any circumstances, because wisdom and resultant success are rarely achieved through overheated emotion.

Price’s body language through 17 starts has projected cucumber-cool confidence. Save for a few puckhandling gaffes – and he was a third defenceman clearing the biscuit against the Flyers – Price has not made a panicky play this season.

His cool extends beyond the final siren. After Brfian Gionta and Scott Gomez retrieved the puck from that idiot Chris Pronger, Price promptly flipped the souvenir to a kid in the stands.

Who needs it? There’ll be more.

The confidence has radiated out to his teammates. With or without Andrei Markov, the D has played superbly in front of Price: blocking shots, clearing rebounds, minimizing second chances and ensuring the galtender sees everything.

I don’t know how many 24-minute games he’s got left in those 36-year-old legs, but Roman Hamrlik was excellent again last night. He and fellow geezer Jaro Spacek (23 minutes) are a pretty good first pairing. Hal Gill and Josh Gorges (a team-high 7:43 on the PK) were customarily solid.

P.K. Subban played a shade under 16 crowd-pleasing minutes. And I thought his less-flamboyant partner, Alexandre Picard, handled the puck and made smart decisions like the veteran he is.

He only played 13 minutes, but Travis Moen was one of the better forwards. Moen skates, goes to the net, dished out four hits and was ready for action if the third-period goon show got out of hand.

Props to the officials for preventing the Flyers from playing all-out Philadelphia hockey over the last 20 minutes. And the Tom Kostopoulos Memorial Award for Taking a Few for the Team to Max Lapierre for dropping ‘em with Powe, whose cowardly hit on Jeff Halpern deserves a suspension if Colin Campbell isn’t too discombobulated to do his job properly.

The best skater was, of course, Tomas Plekanec. Ho-hum: a goal, an assist, significant minutes on the PP and PK, speed that bedazzled the Flyers and a hesitation move that hypnotized Sergei Bobrovsky.

Is it wild homerism to suggest Pleks is the best two-way centre in the NHL?

As to the league’s best goaltender …

My man Engels suggested maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to bring Price into the NHL as early as the Canadiens did.

It hasn’t been easy or smooth getting from draft day to this season’s early glory. But Carey Price has played 170 regular-season and playoff games in the world’s most demanding – and, too frequently, least forgiving – hockey market. And the experience – combined with the maturity that has come to someone who’s still only 23 – has produced some gaudy numbers.

Click on the stats at nhl.com and Price’s name is atop the goaltender list: First in games started, tied for first in wins with Bobrovsky and Michal Neuvirth, second to Jonas Hiller in saves, second to Tim Thomas in shutouts, sixth (and rising) in GAA and save percentage.

When the season began, Carey Price was the NHL’s biggest question mark.

It’s still early, but we may have an answer.

 

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