Where to begin?
The trials and tribulations of the Canadiens’ goaltending corps has been fodder for opinion and speculation since the preseason as Carey Price, Charlie Lindgren, Al Montoya, and Antti Niemi have all taken their turns manning the Habs’ crease.
As always, Carey Price has been the biggest story. It’s been discussed, often and at length, that Price hasn’t seemed, well, himself this season, either before his break due to an unspecified lower-body injury, or after his return. Although Price has always seemed smooth to the point of casual, and he also has a tendency (which we’ve explored previously) to revert to a more passive blocking form when he’s uncertain of the play developing in front of him, this season has seemed different.
Take, for example, this opening night goal by Buffalo’s Jason Pominville on October 5. Price appears to expect a one-timer, but doesn’t get much in the way of a lateral push once Pominville pulls the puck to his backhand.
Or this overtime game winner by Sean Monahan in Calgary on December 7.
Monahan (23) receives a trail pass just to left of center from Johnny Gaudreau (13), and beats Price blocker side with a wrister. Price reads the play and adjusts with two short shuffles, then drops into partial butterfly and reaches out with his blocker hand. There’s not much power on display, nor is Price pushing out from his starting depth to challenge Monahan as we’ve come to expect, particularly in an overtime situation.
It’s not so much the specifics of the goals that he’s given up (it’s coincidence that both of these examples were blocker side, as is the one that we’ll review shortly), as much as the appearance that Price either hasn’t had his usual explosive lower-body power or speed, or he doesn’t trust his lower-body movements like he has in the past.
Rather than speculate about his injury, changes to his skates, or overly dissect what has been an underwhelming first half of the season, it might be more satisfying to find some glimmer of hope, outside of results. That may have occurred late in the second period of the Habs’ otherwise disappointing outdoor performance against the Senators in Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park on December 16.
This save was a regular on the highlight reels, and we’ve seen Price make this kind of save before. Maybe that’s why it seems important. In fact, it’s the routineness of this play that should encourage Habs fans and Price watchers.
The play isn’t complicated. At 17:12 of the second period, with the Senators leading 1-0, the Senators’ Bobby Ryan (9) and Matt Duchene (95) execute a 2-on-1 from the neutral zone, defended by the Habs’ Jakub Jerabek (28), while Alex Galchenyuk (27) trails the play. Ryan maintains his width on the rush, making a relatively early pass from the top of the offensive right circle, while Duchene drives the center lane and receives the puck in the high slot.
Duchene catches Ryan’s pass close to his skates, controls and extends the puck out wide to his forehand as he moves forward, then releases a shot to the short side from the low hash mark. It’s a nifty piece of stick work, one that creates a wider angle of attack than his original position would dictate, and forces Price to cross a more significant amount of ice to defend the chance.
Price is able to extend his blocker hand fully, and the puck caroms off of the handle of his goal stick.
Young goalies should note that he holds on to his stick. We’ve seen some recent examples of goalies, Sergei Bobrovsky in particular, dropping their sticks on plays like this, presumably to gain more mobility in their blocker hand. This example shows why that’s a bad idea. Price makes this save with the handle of his stick. If Duchene’s shot had been below his hand, he would have had a chance to stop it with his paddle as well. Discarding a goal stick, despite how cool it looks, simply reduces the odds that a puck hits something on the way to the net.
On closer examination of this save, there is reason for optimism. Price initially stays on his skates, shoulders square to Ryan.
He appears to expect to have to push across to Duchene. So much so, in fact, that he begins to coil his upper-body away from Duchene while he retreats and loads his left inside edge, even as he is watching Ryan’s pass cross the ice.
As we’ve detailed before, Price will often remain on his skates and delay his final push until he makes a visual read on what to expect from the scoring threat. He utilizes a counterrotation technique to coil his upper-body, then powerfully release into either high hand or low pad coverage. This isn’t the most efficient technique because of the extra movement it requires (it’s also about the only thing he does that young goalies really should avoid learning), but Price is so patient on his edges and expert at uncoiling his upper-body that he is able to use the technique as a formidable defensive tool.
This counterload of his upper-body demands strength and, importantly, confidence in his core and groin musculature. Conditioning in those muscles isn’t just about flexibility. Price hasn’t shown any limitation in flexibility during his play, but this is one of the few times that he’s shown this degree of explosive power
This confidence in his core conditioning is evident in his fully extended position, as he allows himself to lean forward with his body but reach back on angle with his blocker.
Anyway… In summary, this finally looks like the REAL Carey Price.
Hopefully he’ll be able to stick around for a while. Habs fans need him, not to mention those guys wearing the same sweaters.