Entering the 2009 season the Canadiens franchise had plenty of unanswered questions. The goaltending question is an eternal one in Montreal and with both Price and Halak entering RFA years, 2009 should offer no reprieve. Late 2009 has mimicked early 2009 as inconsistency has plagued Carey Price. Jaroslav Halak although solid on nights, has also not taken the opportunity presented to him by Jacques Martin and cemented the number one job.
With neither goalie grabbing the hammer, the majority of fans have aligned themselves on one side or the other. I refer to them as Team Price and Team Halak. Both teams seemingly rise and fall with each performance. Both teams rally to attack one side should they falter and boast and offer, "I told you so's" when they excel. The 2009 campaign got off to a rousing start for Team Price as he opened the season 2-0 and was outstanding leading the Canadiens to a 2-0 start despite being out shot 81-44 and having 148 shots directed at him in 128 minutes. When Halak faltered in Calgary, the attacks on Halak and the management team for not starting Price were loud. Then Price was bombed in Vancouver and after Price lost 3 straight the controversy was back and Halak was awarded another start. Team Halak struck back. Halak offered up two strong starts in a row and Team Halak was now mounting their high horse. After 14 goals in 229 minutes the lines had once again become blurred. So what has changed?
Not much. Both goaltenders continue to fail to elevate themselves from an approaching platoon. Price and Halak have almost identical save percentages, while Halak holds the edge in goals against average. Halak also has a superior record at 5-2, but it has been accrued against inferior opposition as his opponents winning percentage is .545 (25-20-10) while Price's 2-5 record was accrued against a .650 opponents winning percentage (25-13-3).
Note: records reflect the team record when the goaltender faced them. I did not reference the Islanders as 5-4-5, but as 1-3-3 (their record when Halak faced them on Oct 22 and 1-4-4, their record on Oct 26). It would be disingenuous should Atlanta slow down to reference an under .500 record in April when they were hot and 4-1-0 entering Montreal on Oct 20.)
I used the Roy/Hayward duel as an analogy before the season, but I do not remember really caring who played in 1988, just that I hoped the Canadiens would win. This recent controversy has taken on a life of it's own. I get the feeling that some fans have begun to put their personal vindication of their opinions above the success of the team. It is why I refer to the divide amongst Canadiens fans as different teams. It is utterly exasperating because to this point it is the equivalent to arguing who is crazier, Amy Winehouse or Courtney Love? They are both batshit crazy.
I have gone over EVERY goal in October and 80% of them were unstoppable, they have both let in some suspect goals, but none more so than the other. Neither has significantly outplayed the other. One seems to be the Tortoise, one seems to be the Hare. Price at his peak has been dominant (Maple Leafs, Sabres, Blackhawks), but he has a tendency to nap and crash back to reality (Canucks), while Halak goes out, saves the pucks he should (Thrashers, Islanders), doesn't stop the ones he shouldn't (Flames, Penguins, Rangers) and offers a steady compliment. At the end of the day, their statistics are not that different. It was the same story last season. The goaltending is NOT the problem, it is the easy scapegoat. It is the simple corollary.
My opinion? If this team was a legit contender I could understand the cry for consistency and the Halak argument, but with a team that looks to be middle of the pack I would ride out the inconsistencies of the goaltender with the higher ceiling. The fanbase seems to have settled on goaltending as it's scapegoat and is happy to ignore the lack of secondary scoring, abysmal defensive zone coverages and atrocious special teams. The goaltending is but a symptom of a greater issue; targeting the symptom of anemia by drinking 5 red bulls a day does nothing to cure lymphoma. As each issue is addressed individually, the goaltending will miraculously improve.
For those who want to jump to emotional conclusions, this is probably not the article for you. I don't believe in simplistic judgments based on flawed statistical categories, so I have pieced together as many statistics I could for you to make your own judgments. I have tracked every goal. I have tracked where the shots are coming from, how many are blocked, how many are wide, where they are being scored from on the ice, where they are being scored on the goaltender, even strength, powerplay and save percentage from each distance. My intent is to track these things all season and give you a comprehensive month to month look and offer a comparable for Price and Halak, as well as eventually a comparison to their league leading peers.
I avoided statistical manipulation, there is no "remove the seven goals Price gave up against the Canucks and his SV% is.....". If you chose to ignore the winning percentage of the teams faced to make your argument, so be it. If you want to ignore the video evidence of each individual goal, be my guest. I have provided as much information possible in one place and hopefully through this research and presentation, Eyes on the Prize will be able to offer you a more rounded look for you to form your opinions.
Price and Halak's statistical achilles heel is that they play behind a porous Montreal defense. A defense in transition and minus its best player, struggled in October to limit shot attempts. Beginning with the season opener when the Leafs directed 92 shots at the Montreal goal (46 shots, 21 missed shots and 25 blocked shots) Price and Halak have been faced with a consistent barrage. Price has been facing almost a shot attempt per minute on the ice (412 shot attempts in 436 minutes). Compare that to Tim Thomas who has faced 444 shots attempts in 542 minutes or Martin Brodeur who has faced 502 in 672 minutes.
The basic assumption behind these charts is the closer the shot to the net, the more likelihood of it resulting in a goal. The short charts below would reinforce this assumption as the majority of goals given up by Halak and Price increase the closer they move towards the goal and their save percentage also declines with each one.
Looking at his charts, Price has been almost flawless from 50+ ft and has really struggled from 20 ft and in. He only surrendered 3 goals in October outside of the slot and almost half (12 of the 25 goals) were scored within 10 ft of the net. Contrast that to Tim Thomas who only faced 8 shot attempts in all of October from within 10 ft. and Martin Brodeur who faced only 12 shots AT THE GOAL in 236 more minutes (almost 4 full games).
Depending on your perspective, his struggles could also be blamed on terrible special teams as 12 of the 25 goals he allowed in October occurred on the penalty kill (some may blame the penalty kill struggles on Price, I believe the video evidence below proves otherwise) resulting in a massive drag on his save percentage. The results between his even strength save percentage and penalty save percentage is a staggering .268. From .935 five on five to .667 shorthanded.
Halak has been very dominant between 20-40 ft. allowing only one goal all season, but he has also been victimized by the Canadiens soft defense down low as his SV% below 20 ft. is only marginally better than Price's .692. Where Halak has outdistanced Price is his consistency. His penalty kill SV% and regular strength percentage have not suffered from wild swings like Price. Although his 5 on 5 is not in the .930s, he has maintained an .850+ special teams percentage, a huge improvement on Price's .667. Halak has been a much more consistent option for the Canadiens through October 2009-10.
If the Canadiens can limit the shot opportunities below 20 ft. and improve their penalty kill, you will witness a spike in Price and Halak's numbers. Hockey is a team game and goaltending statistics are a reflection of team play. Can a superstar goaltender overcome defensive shortcomings? Yes, but not to the extent where he will lead the league statistically. Can an average goaltender look like a superstar when insulated in a strong defensive system? History has shown that answer to be yes. Rick Wamsley in 1982, Bob Froese in 1986, Byron Dafoe in 1999 and Roman Cechmanek in 2001 all had huge statistical years that were never duplicated on other teams. When you combine a superstar goaltender with a defensive coach you get Patrick Roy in 1989.
Unfortunately the Canadiens possess neither a superstar goaltender, nor an elite defensive coach. Carey Price has the potential to be a superstar, but at 22 is still midway through a steep learning curve. Halak at 24 has proven over the last 12 months that he is an NHL caliber goaltender, but has not shown that he can make the leap to the next level yet (and for those with short memories, Halak was a major question mark through October 2008).
The Canadiens goaltenders allowed forty-six goals in October and while watching the games I rarely found fault with either goaltender. I could easily have just referenced my memory to make my points, but I decided I would go through each goal individually and try to assess blame. I tried to assess the goaltenders positioning. Were they playing too deep in the net? Were they over committing to the shooters? Were they over pursuing the play and creating opportunities while scrambling back in to the play? How was their gap control, puck tracking, anticipation and rebound control? Were they exposed because of defensive zone turnovers? Deflections? Poor defensive zone coverages? etc etc.
Through 46 goals I found 1 bad goal and 8 that were suspect. I considered a goal suspect if there was a screen involved but the goaltender hadn't battled through the screen, if a shot from in close was stoppable if the goaltender was at his sharpest (ie. Raymond off the wing in Vancouver. If Price was sharp, he has the ability to make the save. So even though it was a partial breakaway, more often than not I expect Price to make that save from that angle, but it can not be categorized as a bad goal) or if the goaltender made a small technical error.
I also tracked where the goals beat the goaltender. I illustrated it below with the five main zones + the zone across the bottom which represents goals scored into an empty net (cross crease feed or tap-in). It was interesting that all the heat Price takes for his glove hand that Halak was more vulnerable allowing over 30% of his goals high glove-side.
Video evidence below (Goals deemed bad or suspect are in bold.)
1. Gill giveaway behind the net. Ponikoravsky one-time from the slot beats Price low stick side. No chance. 25 ft
2. 5 on 3 PP. Tomas Kaberle slap shot tipped in by Stajan at the side of the net. No chance. 9 ft
3. 5 on 4 PP. Scramble in front of the net. Matt Stajan taps it into an empty net. No chance. 5 ft
4. Point shot redirected. Tim Connolly pounces on loose puck and beats Price low stick side. 25 ft.
5. Ryan Kesler breakaway from the blueline. Great move beats Price along the ice glove side. 2 ft.
6. Mason Raymond in alone off the boards slides it through Price's 5-hole. Stoppable. 5 ft.
7. 5 on 4 PP. Tic Tac Toe to Steve Bernier who had an open net. No chance. 9 ft.
8. 5 on 4 PP. Price makes the initial save. Sedin all alone shovles it into an empty net. 10 ft.
9. 2 on 0 breakaway. Price cheats pass and Henrik Sedin makes him pay beating him high glove side. 8 ft.
10. 5 on 4 PP. Price stops initial point shot, Samuelsson puts the rebound through the 5-hole. 9 ft.
11. Scramble in front of the net. Price commits to one shot and cannot recover. No help from the D. 8 ft.
12. Mike Comrie wrist shot beats Price high glove side. Looked stoppable. 34 ft.
13. 5 on 4 PP. Point shot tipped in low stick side. No chance. 21 ft.
14. Defensive zone turnover leads to O'Sullivan alone in the slot. Beats Price low stick side. 28 ft.
15. Hejduk shot deflected in off Gorges. Price may have stopped it if his stick was in position. 30 ft.
16. Cumiskey throws the puck towards the front of the net. Deflects in off Belle's skate. No chance. 10 ft.
17. Ryan O'Reilly out of the corner untouched, Price makes the save, but cannot stop the rebound. 11 ft.
18. Chris Neil in the slot all alone. High glove side. No chance. 26 ft.
19. Daniel Alfreddson one timer on a 5 on 3 powerplay. Low glove side. 31 ft.
20. Alex Kovalev all alone in the slot. Snapshot blocker side. 30 ft
21. 5 on 4 PP. Alex Goligoski shot from the point on the PP. No screen beats Price high glove side. 55 ft.
22. 5 on 4 PP. Chris Kunitz clear cut breakaway from center beats Price 5-hole. 15 ft.
23. Kris Versteeg behind the goal shot deflects off Bergeron in between Price's pads beating him 5-hole. 8ft.
24. Cam Barker one-timer from the faceoff dot. Price is deep, shot beats him high glove side. 31 ft.
25. Patrick Sharp one-timer from the slot beats Price low glove side opposite to his momentum. 37ft
1. Eric Nystrom in the slot unchecked. Snapshot beats Halak high glove side. 19 ft.
2. Slap shot from the point. Tipped in front by Nystrom beats Halak low stick side. 13 ft
3. Slap shot from the point off the post. Jarome Iginla bangs in rebound beating Halak high glove side. 19 ft.
4. Kronwall slapshot from the blueline through a screen beats Halak high stick side. 60 ft.
5. Colby Armstrong from the faceoff dot beats Halak low glove side. 25 ft.
6. Halak gives the puck away behind the net to Josh Bailey allowing for an easy tap-in. 5 ft.
7. Halak stops initial shot, Ansimov left alone and beats Halak high glove side. 6 ft.
8. Ales Kotalik left alone in the slot. Beats Halak high glove side. 14 ft.
9. Gilroy slapshot from the point. Halak may have been screened as he is beaten low stick side. 61 ft.
10. Marian Gaborik breakaway from the blueline beats Halak 5 hole. 5 ft.
11. 5 on 4 PPG. Tambellini drives hard to the net. Halak is not set and exposes his 5 hole. 5 ft.
12. 5 on 4 PPG. Spacek giveaway leads to a cross crease feed and an easy redirection for Jeff Tambellini.
13. Turnover. Guerin feeds Crosby all alone at the side of the net. One-timer beats Halak low-stick side. 17 ft.
14. Halak stops initial shot, rebound to Sidney Crosby who beats a sprawled Halak top shelf glove side. 19 ft.
15. Halak stops point shot, scramble in front and Rupp puts home the rebound beating him low stick side. 5 ft.
16. Crosby alone in front, spin-o-rama. Halak makes initial save hits Crosby's skate and trickles in 5-hole. 5 ft.
17. 5 on 4 PP. Point shot rebound to Ponikoravsky in the slot who wraps it home low stick side by Halak. 15 ft.
18. 5 on 4 PP. Lee Stempniak slap shot from the point beats a screened Halak high glove side. 54 ft.
19. Cross crease feed to Ponikoravsky, beats Halak from a bad angle with a perfect shot high stick side. 19 ft.
20. 6 on 5. Kaberle takes a point shot that deflects off Hamrlik and Spacek to beat Halak low stick side. 63 ft
The October verdict: Patience is required. Patience for a Canadiens team integrating 10-12 new players. Patience for a team that is missing its only legitimate All-Star. Patience for a coach who is still installing a new system and approach and finally patience for the two kids between the pipes.