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Still: The Canadiens, Carey Price and presence

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Montreal Canadiens practice for the foreseeable future is no longer about who isn’t in attendance or who’s skating next to who.

It is officially Price-watch.

Like tourists on an African safari, reporter’s eyes will be keenly on the lookout for a hint of the presence of the Habs star goaltender.

Carey Price, after completing the NHL/NHLPA’s 30-day joint player assistance program, is expected to be around the team tomorrow in Brossard. When he will return to the ice is up in the air. He met with the team’s trainers and medical team yesterday to see how his recovery from off-season knee surgery is going.

But even though he won’t be on the ice, two members of the Canadiens leadership core are looking forward to the emotional presence of their best player.

Breathe in, breathe out

“His calming demeanor, on the ice and off the ice,” admitted Jeff Petry after practice this morning. “That’s something I noticed from day one when I got here.”

Petry went on to use the word past, present and future tense of calm several times during his media availability. That relaxed presence could be crucial for a team that have played better of late but can’t seem to stop the snowball rolling down the hill morphing into an avalanche.

“We were happy for him to get the help he needed,” said Brendan Gallagher. “Now that he’s back, do what we can do to help him. I think he’s going to come back excited. I’m sure like anyone he’s going to be excited to get back to the rink when you’ve been away for long stretches at a time… We’re looking forward to it as a group for sure.”

For the group, of course. But for Petry and Gallagher in particular the return of the alpha will relieve some of the pressure they’ve put on themselves during the team’s 3-10 start to the season.

Petry himself has acknowledged multiple times that he has tried to do to too much as one of the longest tenured Montreal Canadiens. Whether that has been the cause for his slow start to the season is difficult to say. He certainly showed his frustration with some of his teammates in Saturday night’s loss to Vegas.

You have to applaud Petry’s care level. But that outburst seems ill-fitting on him. While calling out your teammates is something the Montreal Canadiens need more of, it does seem out of character for the typically mild-mannered defenceman to have an outburst like that.

Gallagher, after being held pointless the first six games of the season, has rounded into form with five points in his last six. But in the first season of a six-year, $39 million dollar contract he hasn’t looked quite so comfortable in his role as disruptor-in-chief for the club.

Or as comfortable as getting mauled in front of the net 20 times a game can possibly look.

The Habs goaltender can shoulder some of the leadership load that both Petry and Gallagher have struggled with so far. By having just that little extra taken off their respective plates, the focus for both of them can shift back to just playing hockey.

Petry and Gallagher are both good players, important to the success of this team. But with their games faltering at times, it had to have been difficult for both of them to lead the club and deal with their own poor play.

Carey Price is just on a whole other level. Regardless of how he fares on the ice, he commands instant respect from the other 22 men in the locker room.

He has presence. Maybe that’s all that’s needed to turn the Montreal Canadiens back into a respectable hockey team.

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