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Carey Price dominating again, but Canadiens about more than their goalie

MONTREAL -- As the chants of "Carey, Carey'' cascaded down from the Bell Centre rafters Thursday night during another gem of a performance from the reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy winner, I approached a longtime NHL scout in the press box and asked if there's anything left to say about the guy in goal for the Montreal Canadiens.

"It's honestly unbelievable," said the Western Conference scout, shaking his head. "He is such a difference-maker. I swear it looks like he's anticipating the next shot three seconds before it happens. And he's so calm; there's traffic or loose pucks and he just stays focused. I mean, what else can you say?''

How about this: Is it possible Price has in store a season that could actually top his 2014-15 campaign, which saw him named the league's best goalie and MVP?

I mean, why not? He's 28 years old, still plenty of room to grow. Can you imagine for a moment if the best is still yet to come?

"He's one of those rare guys that you really say has the whole package,'' former Coyotes assistant GM and goalie whisperer Sean Burke said over the phone Thursday night.

"He's athletic to begin with; technically he's very, very sound; he's one of those players that has very few weaknesses, if any,'' continued Burke. "I'm sure every team says, 'Let's get traffic and don't let him see the shot.' If he can see it, he's going to stop it. Mentally, that's such an advantage when you know the other team is going into the game saying, 'How are we going to beat this guy?' It reminds me of Dominik Hasek in his prime; the other team is half-beaten before they hit the ice.''

Speaking of the mental game, that's where Price focused his offseason plan. He needed to unplug and chill out in order to reboot.

"I think every season you try to do things that are going to improve you," Price said after Thursday's 3-0 win over the New York Rangers. "For myself, mentally I just needed to take a break from the game. I took a longer break than normal. Because when you play that many games, that hard, it's a grind mentally. So just refreshing my mind was my biggest goal this summer.''

Which meant plenty of time spent outdoors back in his native British Columbia.

"Getting out in the woods and getting some quiet time,'' is the way Price put it.

Wait, Price has to find a place where he goes to relax? The same guy I caught yawning during a break in play in the gold-medal game of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi? That calm demeanor in net in turn becomes one heck of a weapon for the Habs.

"It's like I've seen with us: The confidence flows from your goaltender out," said Rangers star winger Rick Nash, comparing Price with Henrik Lundqvist. "I've seen it with Hank a lot. I've been part of it with [Price] with Team Canada. When you have a world-class goalie, the confidence shifts up from the D to the forwards. Both of these guys do that.''

In fact, Burke said, it allows a team like Montreal to play differently.

"You don't go into a game uptight, you're not nervous about making mistakes," said Burke. "Those guys have the freedom to play their game and not worry that much about making mistakes. You know there's a guy back there to bail you out. Those teams have such an advantage. That's another mental edge for a team like that.''

The real question is whether the rest of the Canadiens will step up their games this season to really take advantage of the edge they have in goal.

I thought it was interesting what veteran center Tomas Plekanec said last week to NHL.com when asked yet again about the perception that the Habs are only a good team because of Price.

"You know what? I'm kind of sick of hearing that we're a team that's just about Carey," Plekanec said. "Obviously, he's the best goaltender in the world, we all know that. But should we feel sorry for ourselves that we play in front of him?

"He's a great goalie, but I think we're a better team than that. But we've got to show that. We've got to show that in the game, that we're better. We've got to help him out a little bit more."

Hey, let's not forget all-world blueliner P.K. Subban and sniper Max Pacioretty here. By and large, though, the thinking really is that Price is the team's savior. The challenge this season is to prove otherwise.

"This year we really want to show we're a good team and that we're part of the elite teams in this league," center David Desharnais said after Thursday's game. "Obviously, with him in net it gives us the confidence to raise our game to another level, because we know he's there to bail us out. But if we play better in front of him, his job might be a bit easier.''

There are signs of that so far, albeit in a small sample of just five games. The Habs have better puck possession numbers than last season and are looking like a more effective team in transition and on the forecheck. They're creating more. They've got three offensive lines plus a fourth line with speed.

"We're five games into the season, but it's a good start," said Desharnais, who centers the third line. "I also think it's the way the new NHL is now, where the teams that have won the Cup recently get contributions from everyone.''

The Cup? Well, hey, the Habs are 5-0-0 for the first time in their storied history.

"We have a pretty confident group of guys here," said Price. "We've always felt strong in our abilities, and right now it's paying off. We just have to stick to the same process and realize what's made us successful.''