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Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price leaves the dressing room at the end of season media availability Thursday, April 28, 2011 in Brossard, Que., after losing their NHL Stanley Cup playoff first round series to the Boston Bruins in seven games. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price leaves the dressing room at the end of season media availability Thursday, April 28, 2011 in Brossard, Que., after losing their NHL Stanley Cup playoff first round series to the Boston Bruins in seven games. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

HOCKEY

Carey Price finally feeling at home Add to ...

Gone are the days of trolling Old Montreal’s narrow streets to find a pickup truck-sized parking space.

Now Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is a suburban homeowner, which in addition to feeling cozier and more permanent has allowed him to contribute more in the team-building department.

“It makes you feel a little more comfortable for sure, being a guy who’s been around for a little while and being able to invite guys over for a barbeque at your place,” he said.

“Some guys will be in a hotel for the next two months. So to be one of those guys who can offer a bed or something just to get them out of the hotel for a few days is really huge at this point of the year. I know I’ve been in the Sheraton for three months at a time and it’s just not that much fun.”

Beyond making life simpler – “My first three years, just going to get groceries and trying to park my truck downtown, I’d have to search half-an-hour for a parking spot” – the acquisition last year of new digs a short drive from the Habs’ practice facility coincided with his breakout season as an uncontested NHL No. 1.

Life wasn’t always this good.

While there is much to envy about the modern young NHLer, the good is almost always accompanied by a healthy dollop of deeply unpleasant.

Take the night almost exactly a year ago that Price was lustily booed after giving up four goals to the Boston Bruins in his first preseason start.

On Tuesday, Price will step into the crease at the Bell Centre for the Habs’ exhibition opener against the Dallas Stars, but the context will be vastly different.

“A lot of things can happen in a year I guess,” Price said dryly.

Gone are the comparisons to erstwhile playoff hero Jaroslav Halak; this team has its franchise goalie, and it’s the big kid from Anahim Lake, B.C.

For all the talk about a more physical, higher-octane defensive corps and added offensive depth, the Habs’ fortunes will largely hinge on how Price, who started 72 games last year, fares.

And now at least fans know not to expect his best work in preseason.

“I’m still in the same position as I was last year, I still don’t feel good, I still need to work on a lot of things throughout these games. [Tuesday]night might not go that great,” he said with a laugh.

It seems almost inconceivable that Price, who has both inspired and endured the full gamut of emotions in his 232 NHL games, is still just 24.

He seems a long way removed from the famous “chill out” moment last fall – where Price took on his Bell Centre boo-birds – which teammates call a pivot point in his maturation as a pro.

In the intervening months, the Habs have become Price’s team. That’s not to say there are no subplots this season.

Price is in the last year of a contract that will pay him $3-million (U.S.) in 2011-12, a relative bargain.

Like other Habs in contract years – forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Mathieu Darche, defencemen Josh Gorges, Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill – Price has arrived at camp focused and determined to get off to a fast start.

“I want to do everything I did last year and I want to do more,” he said.

The Habs don’t typically negotiate during the season, and though Price wouldn’t mind if they were to make an exception, the focus is on playing well enough to earn the deal he wants.

“Everybody knows I want to play here and I want to sign an extension,” he said.

In the meantime, Price will work out the kinks in his game and build a rapport with his new back-up, 29-year-old Slovak Peter Budaj.

When it was put to him that this will be Budaj’s first season with the benefit of a full-time goaltender coach, Price smiled mischievously.

“He’ll have lots of people telling him what he’s doing wrong,” he joked.

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