Hockey players watch the games too; they're allowed to be fans.
About 20 minutes after shutting out the New York Rangers for the sixth time in his last ten home starts, you may be surprised to learn Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price's prevailing emotion was admiration for his opposite number.
The Habs have won their first five starts this season – a new record for a 106-year-old franchise where it seems basically everything has been done at least once – none of the previous four triumphs involved a goal-tending duel of this standard.
Price repelled all 25 shots that reached his net, Henrik Lundqvist turned aside 29 of 31, including at least a half-dozen saves that might be reported to the Vatican's miracle investigation unit.
"He was awesome, that was a spectacle," said Price, "he put on a clinic out there, I really like watching him."
If you had to pick just one stop from the Lundqvist canon on this night, why not the reaction glove save he made as Devante Smith-Pelly steamed up the middle of the ice and connected on a bouncing puck at point-blank range.
"I caught it out of the air, so I was sure he wouldn't have time enough to react. Unbelievable," Smith-Pelly said with a wry smile.
In the end Lundqvist's heroics weren't enough, of course, the Habs ran their record of the year to 5-0 with a 3-0 triumph in a game that against most other clubs on the loop would have been over after the first period.
"Quite a hockey lesson tonight," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.
When asked about the goal-tending performance, he said one of the netminders was busy: his.
"Price didn't have much to do," he said.
Now, there is a history of gamesmanship between Vigneault and Montreal coach Michel Therrien (the two are good friends but the job is the job).
And it's a patently ridiculous assertion.
The visitors had just as many high-quality scoring chances during the night, and Price was especially magnificent in a pivotal stretch of second period when the Rangers had a five-on-three power-play for 1:42 (Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin were in the box, defenceman P.K. Subban was on the ice for all but six seconds of the two-man disadvantage).
First he stoned Derek Stepan on a one-time shot from the left faceoff dot, then he held the fort during a chaotic scramble in the slot.
Moments after the penalties expired, he slid across his net to snare a one-timer from Team Canada Olympic teammate Rick Nash. The crowd was on its feet after that one.
Nash marvelled afterward because his shot was "kind of a knuckleball" and that it "probably made it harder for him to save it."
Price gently disagreed.
"In that instance, [Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Kristopher] Letang scored on a goal like that last game, it fooled me." he said. "On that one I was able to track it, it actually gave me enough time to get over to it."
If it's not clear by now, Price is the humble sort.
That doesn't mean there's no fire there – in the third period he played the puck behind his net and then levelled Rangers forward Chris Kreider with a shoulder to the chest, conspicuously staring him down afterward.
Kreider, it needn't be pointed out, ended Price's season in the spring of 2014 with a two-footed slide in game one of the Eastern Conference final.
"I didn't know who it was," Price said, airily.
If it's not clear by now, he also isn't above telling the odd white lie.
So Price managed to steal this game before Lundqvist could, perhaps the most encouraging thing about the Habs' record-setting start is he hasn't been called upon to do it regularly.
The Canadiens looked wobbly at various points – the defensive zone remains a problem area and the power-play still sucks (now 2 for 19 on the season) – but there are enough encouraging signs to provide positive memories during the losing string that surely lies in the near or middle distance.
Although given the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in each of the three previous seasons where they opened the season 4-0, maybe they won't need psychological devices of that sort.
Even the fancy stats are smiling on the Habs, who were a bottom-third possession team last season (it's a small sample, but so far this season they have controlled more than 54 per cent of the total shots and shot attempts at even strength).
"(The start) is rewarding, but I'm more happy about the way the team's playing. It's so fun to roll four lines . . . you see their top line hop out there and we just go with the next line up, we have that confidence on our team," said Max Pacioretty, first out on the ice in the pre-game ceremony as the club's new captain. "There's no egos on this team right now."
The American winger is evidently growing into his new role; he singled out Smith-Pelly for his strong play, and in the late going he wheeled away from what would have been an easy empty-net tap-in on Tomas Plekanec's long shot from the defensive zone.
Did he at least think about it?
"If it had slowed down I would have put it in. Pleky's got more GPs than me so I figured I'd leave that one for him," he said.
Hockey players may be fans of the game and many of their peers, but they also watch what happens on the ice more closely than the average punter.
So when the captain passes up a chance to pad his stats, they notice.
"That goes a long way in the dressing room," said teammate Dale Weise.