It’s pretty hard to imagine what wasn’t expected of Carey Price this season. His return from the knee injury that ended his previous campaign was a leading storyline for the entire NHL, let alone the Montreal faithful.
After missing several games to open the season while he recovered from the flu, Price quieted any early doubts about his ability to return to his dominating form by notching 10 consecutive regulation wins to start the year. He finished the season with a 37-20-5 record, with an all-situations save percentage of .923.
In putting together a regular season that made him a Vezina Trophy finalist (along with Braden Holtby and Sergei Bobrovsky), Price quieted any who doubted he could return to his previous dominating form. Overall, his season can be described in three stages, as is nicely detailed in this piece summarizing the Vezina race.
The bottom line is that Price had a noticeable statistical dip from late December through mid February. It’s not a coincidence that this coincides with the period of increasing defensive breakdowns and worsening penalty-kill performance from the team itself.
These rolling average charts provide a nice illustration. Price’s overall save percentage (top) follows the general pattern of his expected Fenwick save percentage. The latter is a loosely predictive measure of what his save percentage would have been expected to be based on the unblocked shots he was facing at the time. It’s not exact, but it’s pretty clear that Price was doing pretty well playing the hand he was being dealt.
Statistics aside, Price started the season going gangbusters, but did hit a bit of a wall, physical or psychological (or both), through the mid-portion of the season as the team struggled under the last weeks of Michel Therrien’s coaching regime. The 7-1 loss against the Minnesota Wild on January 12, in which Price demanded to be left in to suffer with his teammates, was certainly a low point, but the real bottom seemed to come in early February, just before the bye week. Ironically, it was during what became an overtime win in Arizona.
The bye week brought Claude Julien to the bench, changes to the defensive rotation and penalty-kill system, and a whole lot of optimism. Price seemed to rebound along with his team, and closed out the season in dominant form. The “Price is rejuvenated” narrative reached full locomotive status with his overtime save in New York on J.T. Miller, one of the best saves of the NHL’s regular season.
The playoffs, alas, were not as kind to Price as the Vezina voters. Price turned in a strong performance against the Rangers, but strong wasn’t enough as Henrik Lundqvist frustrated the Habs’ offence at the other end of the ice.
Another season, same story. Carey Price remains at the top of the heap of NHL netminders, but he’s still waiting for a shot at the mountaintop.
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