MONTREAL - Even those reluctant to give goaltenders their vote for the Hart Trophy are having to reconsider with the season Carey Price is having for the Montreal Canadiens.
Some coaches, including Washington's Barry Trotz and Florida's Gerard Gallant, as well as players and commentators have called him the best player in the National Hockey League, mainly because his numbers through the first 67 games of the campaign have been staggering.
The 27-year-old Price leads the league in goaltending wins (37), goals-against average (1.93) and save percentage (.935), despite a rare weak outing in a 5-2 loss to Ottawa on Thursday night.
His statistics either match or surpass many of those put up by Dominic Hasek with the Buffalo Sabres when he won consecutive Hart Trophies as the league's most valuable player in 1997 and 1998.
"What else can you say about Carey Price," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said this week. "Last year we thought he had a great season and this year he's been phenomenal in all aspects of his game and in his leadership as well.
"I think the gold medal (at the 2014 Winter Olympics) brought him the confidence players need."
Price allowed only three goals in five games as Canada won gold in Sochi, Russia. The Anahim Lake, B.C. product stayed in top form for the rest of the 2013-14 campaign and carried it into this season.
The Hart Trophy goes to the player deemed most valuable to his team, and his part in Montreal's rise to the top of overall NHL standings is undeniable.
The Canadiens are among the league's lowest-scoring clubs, but they are first in the 30-team circuit in goals-against at 2.15 per game, thanks largely to Price.
He has 11 wins when his team scores two or fewer goals this season. His teammates have scored two or fewer in 13 of his 14 regulation time losses.
"He's given us a lot of opportunities to get points every game," forward Brendan Gallagher said. "Quite frankly, I think we've relied on him a little bit too much this season.
"But at times you need your best players to be your best players, and he's certainly been that for us."
Price followed a shutout win in Phoenix by blanking the high-powered Tampa Bay offence for 62 minutes on Tuesday before allowing an overtime goal that went in off teammate Tom Gilbert's skate for a 1-0 loss. His 35-save performance was the difference in earning one point for his team.
"When you have a goalie of that calibre, you expect that kind of performance out of him," Lightning star Steven Stamkos said. "That might have been a reason why it was 0-0 after three periods and they got a point."
The Hart has been won only seven times by goalies. The last was Montreal's Jose Theodore in 2002.
Some feel the goalies already have their award in the Vezina Trophy. And there are skaters who have been a big part of their teams' success this season who will no doubt draw plenty of votes, notably John Tavares with the New York Islanders and Washington's Alex Ovechkin.
But sometimes a goalie's performance can erase any doubts.
"The only reason you wouldn't have him in that conversation is if you really don't want it to be a goalie," said Montreal centre Lars Eller. "But if you truly want the best player, he has to be among the nominees, in my opinion."
Other goalies who won the Hart are Roy Worters of the New York Americans in 1929, Chuck Rayner of the New York Rangers in 1950, Al Rollins of Chicago in 1954 and Montreal's Jacques Plante in 1962. The last 11 winners have been forwards.