Great athletes like Carey Price are fascinating for lots of reasons. They do amazing things. They flawlessly execute simple fundamentals. Sometimes, though, they do something so subtle that you have to watch it a couple of times to believe that they did it. This is one of those times.
The Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 4-2 Saturday evening for their 8th straight road victory against their hated rivals. For much of the game, finally, the Habs controlled possession and the pace of play, but things tightened up considerably late in the game. Paul Byron scored a shorthanded goal at 7:32 of the 3rd period to give the Habs a 3-1 lead, but the Bruins converted less than a minute later on the same power play.
David Krejci (46) passes the puck below the goal line to David Backes (42). Backes then makes a brilliant cross-crease pass that eludes the sliding Andrei Markov, and Ryan Spooner (51) drives the puck past Price. I’m going to dissect this goal in much more detail for another piece about defensemen and goalies, but in this post I’ll keep it short, and use this goal as a setup for the play I’d like to review.
Leading 4-2 with less than a minute left, the Canadiens find themselves facing an empty net 6-on-3 penalty kill.
Again, Krejci passes to Backes at the goal line. Backes looks to pass across the crease, this time to the lurking Rat, Brad Marchand (63). Price is able to block the pass this time, Markov clears the puck, and the Habs never give up their 2-goal lead.
Price does a couple of things to render this play harmless.
With only 3 defenders on the ice, there’s going to be more space for Backes to make his cross-ice pass. Price guards against this by extending his reach with his stick. Rather than keep his usual grip position on the top of his paddle, he slides his right hand to the top of the handle, as he would for a poke check.
He also keeps a firm grip on his stick so that when Backes’ pass hits it, the puck is totally controlled, rather than deflected to the slot, where Patrice Bergeron (37) is waiting to pounce.
Price is even prepared to clear the puck himself if Markov cant’t get to it!
Now, go back a second. I said Price extends his reach by sliding his grip up the handle of his stick. Look at when he does that!! By the time Price is on his post, he’s already changed his grip on the stick.
He doesn’t change his hand position when Backes makes his pass. He changes it when Krejci makes his!
I expect that most NHL goalies would expect a pass from Backes to Marchand, and try to block it, especially after being scored on earlier under nearly identical circumstances. Price doesn’t just anticipate the pass, though. He changes his grip on his goal stick, to give himself additional reach and leverage, before Backes even receives the puck!
Successful NHL goaltending isn’t just about stopping pucks. On this play, Price makes a subtle adjustment that gives him an advantage over his opponent in a vital, 6-on-3 shorthanded situation. This is the kind of sequence that won’t show up on any score sheet, but it’s just as important a play as any save or blocked shot.
It’s also a reminder that when it comes to Carey Price, the closer we watch, the more there is to see.