Months after being rewarded for his dominant performance in 2014-15, the story about Carey Price right now seems to surround the improbability of him being able to repeat what he did last year.
The problem with these discussions is that it's very hard to predict greatness.
The performances that set the bar are not common, and thus, not probable. Repeating last year's performance seems unlikely when we look at the stat sheet, but when asked at the annual Montreal Canadiens' Golf Tournament on Wednesday whether or not he could play better this season, Carey Price had a simple answer: Yup.
2014-15 Season Review
Carey Price is a special breed of goalie. Always known for his technically sound game, Price took his natural skill and calm demeanour to a new level last year, playing with a consistency that saw him carry the Habs to 110-point season and first-place finish in the Atlantic Division.
Carey's 44 wins doubled his loss-rate, with 16 regulation and six overtime losses on his record in 66 games played. In those 66 games, Price allowed 130 goals, and only 88 even-strength goals, a ridiculously low level of goals against when compared against other goaltenders who played as many minutes as he did.
A quick analysis of the six goalies who played more than 3,000 even-strength minutes last season puts into perspective just how valuable Price was, particularly at five-on-five where he was dominant, only challenged by Pekka Rinne in this statistic, who faced 101 less shots against while allowing three more goals at even-strength.
(stats via Puckalytics.com)
More importantly, when looking up Price's effect on the team, we can see just how wide the gap is between his GSAA (goals saved above average) and the second place goaltender.
(GSAA courtesy of Hockey Reference)
In putting up these numbers last season, Price broke the Canadiens' franchise single-season record for wins, and save percentage at .933.
He would sweep the 2014-15 NHL Awards, taking home the most awards any individual Canadiens player has walked away with in a single night, taking home four trophies (Jennings, Vezina, Ted Lindsay and Hart) as well as being named to the NHL First All-Star Team.
All in all, it was an incredible season for Price, and despite the accolades he got everywhere he went, he always carried himself lightly and this translated into an exemplary poise on the ice.
Carey Price is a man who believes he can stop every puck. While it will be very difficult to replicate last season's numbers, Price isn't concerned with his individual performance on the stat sheet - he wants to win a championship.
This mentality is certainly behind his confidence when he was asked if he believed he could play better than he did last year: it's a team game, and Price considers himself part of something greater than just himself. In having this attitude, Price may somehow transcend into an even greater player by leading his team from the blue-paint, something only the great goalies have been able to accomplish.
He'll likely play around the same amount of games this year, with Dustin Tokarski being handed around 15-20 starts. A workhorse, Price is the goalie who once played 72 -game regular season games as a 24-year-old, so it's not like he can't handle the workload. What will help him is an improved performance from the team in front of him, a team that mustered the least amount of goals-per-game than any other team that made the playoffs last season (2.61) and ultimately, the Habs were eliminated from the playoffs by the team that had the most goals-per-game in the league (the Tampa Bay Lightning at 3.16).
He'll have to maintain a save percentage around .920 at a minimum in order to lead his team into the playoffs in a comfortable position, and unless the Habs adapt their team strategy, and most importantly improve their powerplay this season, Price will have to allow no more than two goals a game on most nights for the Habs to challenge for the Division win.
It goes without saying: Carey Price is the centerpiece of the Montreal Canadiens' game plan, only because he can handle it, and actually evolves as a result of the pressure.
His optimism after being eliminated from the Conference Finals two years ago by Kris Kreider was followed up by a fairy tale season that lacked only thing: a Stanley Cup.
Price's attitude has shifted once again. He comes into this season focused on winning a Cup, and just as importantly, he believes this is a goal he and his teammates can accomplish.