BROSSARD, Que. — Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien doesn't expect star goaltender Carey Price to return before early February at the earliest.
For the second time in less than a week, Therrien offered reporters an update on Price's status. While this one was more precise, it was also far less encouraging.
"It would surprise us if he was back before the all-star game," Therrien said following Friday's practice. "We said it would be a minimum of six weeks — a long-term absence.
"And when it's a question of long-term injury, it's difficult to say whether the return will take place on such a day. We have to follow the rehabilitation process and they tell me it's going well."
Price was injured during a game against the New York Rangers on Nov. 25 at Madison Square Garden.
Since his injury, the Canadiens have complied a 6-12-1 record and allowed 53 goals over that span. Most of the losses came in December when coupled with the loss of Brendan Gallagher, Montreal dropped 10-of-11 games at one stretch.
Price has only appeared in 12 games this season, winning 10. His goals-against-average stands at 2.06 and save percentage at .934.
"Our best player has played only 25 per cent of the time this year," Therrien said. "As we all know, he's got an important role on our team.
"You can replace your No. 1 goalie for a short period of time but in the long run, it's tough."
The NHL all-star game goes Jan. 31 in Nashville and the Canadiens' final contest before a long break is Jan. 26 against Columbus. Montreal will begin the second half of the season visiting Philadelphia before hosting the Buffalo Sabres — the first of a four game stretch at the Bell Centre that sees Edmonton, Carolina and Tampa Bay also playing there.
Until Price's return, Therrien will carry on with Mike Condon and Ben Scrivens, who the Canadiens acquired from the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 28 for Zack Kassian.
Therrien said his team is showing poise in pressing situations.
"We hang in there, and that's what I like about our team," Therrien said. "I believe we had a pretty solid game last time, we only allowed 20 shots and (Saturday against Pittsburgh), tight checking, it will be a challenge.
"We know they got a lot of elite players out there."
Condon will start against Pittsburgh but defenceman Jeff Petry won't play because of a lower-body injury. Greg Pateryn moves back into the lineup in his place.
NOTES: Veteran Tomas Fleischmann will be a scratch against Pittsburgh for the second straight game. The 31-year-old veteran had 15 points in his first 22 games with the Canadiens but points have been harder to come by in recent weeks — his last goal was Dec. 10 and his last point came nine days later. "I'm upset about it, but what I can do is prepare for the next game and prove I can stay in the lineup," Fleischmann said. Therrien said he's prepared to give Fleischmann another shot, but couldn't say when.
Michel Lamarche, The Canadian Press