Once you sign for the big money, all eyes are on you.
That was the case for Montreal’s all-world goaltender coming into the 2017-18 season, even though Carey Price ’s mega eight-year extension, valued at a whooping $84 million, or $10.5 million AAV, doesn’t begin until next year. This contract was met with mixed reactions from a fanbase attempting to find the balance between paying a superstar and remaining competitive in a salary-capped league.
Some argued Price deserved the massive pay raise, as he has consistently been one of the best players (let alone goaltenders) in the NHL for the past nine seasons. However, others criticized Bergevin for committing so much money and term on a goalie who just turned 30 years old, despite Price’s success.
So far however, it’s been an up-and-down season for both the Canadiens and Price himself.
After a year where he amassed a 37-20-5 record, as well as an All-Star appearance and his second Vezina Trophy nomination, expectations were at their peak this year, especially with the new defence corps in front of him.
The season started out with a 43-save shootout win against the Sabres, leading to optimism for Habs fans with Price in fine form. However, with six straight losses for Price immediately afterward, the Canadiens’ season started off on the wrong foot.
He seemed lost and uncomfortable in net, unlike his old self, and finished the month of October with a 3-6-1 record, with a .883 save percentage and a goals-against average of 3.64.
In comparison, in 2016-17, he was 5-0 in the month of October, supported by a .954 save percentage and an equally impressive 1.40 GAA.
As well, this season seems eerily similar to the 2011-12 season, where the Canadiens failed to make the playoffs, eventually drafting Alex Galchenyuk third overall. That season, Price had a 26-28-11 record, with a .916 save percentage.
Injury deja vu
On November 2, against the Minnesota Wild, Price suffered a reportedly “minor” lower-body injury during warmups against the Minnesota Wild, though Price played the entire game.
Below is a clear example of how his lateral movement and positioning were affected following the injury. Usually this takes a large amount of athleticism, however seeing Price making such a highlight-reel cross-crease save has become commonplace in recent years. This time, however, he barely has the strength to push off, despite tracking the puck effectively.
Price ended up missing close to a month with that lower-body injury, and it sent a feeling of deja vu throughout those who closely follow the Canadiens organization. It’s easy to remember a similar situation back in 2015, where Price tripped on a puck during warmups prior to a game against the Edmonton Oilers and wasn’t able to perform at his top level.
Despite not feeling 100% then, Price proceeded to play the next three games for the Habs, and it resulted in being sidelined for the rest of the season due to the injury.
However, this time around, he seemed optimistic regarding the injury, and decided to take his time to return to the lineup, listing rookie Charlie Lindgren’s strong play as a factor:
Price said if it was a playoff game he’d be in. Noted Lindgren’s play has bought him time to get 100% again #Habs— Kyle Bukauskas (@SNkylebukauskas) November 14, 2017
“The fans don’t need to be concerned. It’s just taken a little bit longer than expected just because of the nature of my position. So I just want to make sure I’m 100 per cent and can do my job to the best of my ability when I come back so I’m going to make sure to take my time with it and it won’t be very long.”
Price missed just about a month of action with his latest injury, returning to action on November 25 against the Buffalo Sabres. For a short stretch, we saw the Price we have all become accustomed to.
He went on to win his next five starts, allowing only six goals in that span, including one shutout in his return. He was named the NHL’s second star of the week, and gave the Canadiens a much-needed boost.
Since then, we’ve seen two versions of Price. Some games he’s dominant and looks unfazed, and others he is slightly shaken and often gets beaten cleanly. He has a 4-7-1 record since that win streak in November/early December, but not all of the losses can be attributed to him.
One reason he may be struggling this year, is a different defensive system put in place by head coach Claude Julien, with new personnel, which has made a huge difference in where the Habs are allowing shots from this season.
Using the heat map from last season, the Canadiens allowed fewer shots from the middle of the ice in comparison to the league average last year, as well as keeping the chances slightly to the perimeter.
This season, they’ve forced more shots to come from along the boards, but the positioning is leaving holes in the coverage, the most alarming of which is right at the top of the crease; a spot the Habs did well to defend last season.
Against the Capitals, the above three-goal sequence from the beginning of the season is perhaps one of the best displays of the defensive errors which have hampered the team, and its goalie, this season.
In the first goal, the defence (Petry, Alzner, and a backchecking Hudon) lose the puck battle along the wall to the Capitals, specifically to Alex Ovechkin. Once the puck is loose, the sniper sneaks into the middle of the ice. Despite being square to the shot, Price is beat by an absolute laser from Ovechkin, and you can see him track the puck as it hits the net.
The second relates to the red area around the slot which has truly been an Achilles heel for the Habs this year. A lack of defensive awareness, as well as a rebound from Price, allows T.J. Oshie to pot the rebound. Note Jordie Benn, Shea Weber and Brendan Gallagher all puck-watching.
Finally, the third goal is pure artistry between Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin. The sequence before, Ovechkin managed to hit the post, so one would assume the defence would maybe put more pressure on Ovechkin, right? However, it seems Montreal fails to recognize his innate ability to score from that left faceoff dot. Kuznetsov sends a wicked pass, and Price tries his best, but Ovi does what he does best.
Defensive woes in front of him haven’t been the only issues for Price this season. His own technical play hasn’t been at the standard we’re used to seeing.
A lot of shots have beat him cleanly. It’s obvious that not all goals are the goaltender’s fault, but it’s happened very often this season and was a cause for concern, especially earlier in the season.
In this play against the Leafs, Price seems to be caught cheating to the blocker side, and Auston Matthews makes him pay. This positioning has symbolized some excessive movements that he was making earlier in the season, often related to faults in his puck-tracking.
Here’s another fumble against the Oilers. Price goes out to play the puck, and seemingly has no sense of urgency to move the puck quickly. Despite both Ryan Strome and Jujhar Khaira both closing in on him. Both the mistiming of the pass and the lacklustre effort from Price, lead to the awful turnover and resulting goal.
Confidence is everything for a goalie, and it’s easy to say he lacked it at the beginning of the season, and it showed in these aspects of his game.
Return to form
Lately however, he seems more dialed in, and has fixed the movement issues that plagued him early on, enjoying both the strong positioning and solid puck-tracking that has become a staple of his game.
In this sequence against the Canucks, you can see Price always attempting to stay within sight of the puck, remaining square to the puck-carrier. Being a short-handed scenario, he keeps his movements controlled, knowing that cheating to one side may result in a goal against.
He knows where each player is, and it pays off. The Canucks pull off an impressive passing play, and give Markus Granlund a chance on the door step, but Price is already in position for the shot.
The second save on Boeser looks easy, but you see Price having to look around the Canuck posted in front of him, as well as having to account for the possible pass to Alex Edler on the right half wall.
That sequence by Price was pure technical prowess, as well as anticipating where the play will go.
In the Habs’ last game against Tampa Bay, he isn’t fazed as Kucherov is in all alone, following him all the way to the backhand shot. This may look easy, however Kucherov does show the possibility for a shot at first. Price doesn’t bite, and makes a strong push to deny him in the end.
Also, take a look at the score and the clock. This was a clutch save, and probably the most important one of the game ... until overtime that is.
Many people are only watching to see the second incredible stop on Palat, but he makes an equally impressive save on Tyler Johnson at first, a perfect example of his ability.
He recognizes that Palat is too close to Petry on the rush to get an effective shot off, and was prepared to take the pass instead of the shooter. He makes the right choice, with an unreal glove stop. And then comes the fun part.
You see him watch the puck as it falls, and he knows he’s not out of trouble yet. Sprawling, he decides to roll over in a last-ditch effort to keep the game going. He uses his body’s momentum to swing fully at the last second, extending his right pad, absolutely robbing Palat of the OT-winner.
It stands as by far one of the best saves of the year, and it all started with his awareness and ability to read the initial rush.
Price’s numbers are down from last year, and his poor season is partly a side effect of the Canadiens woes all year long. He is still an elite goalie, and has shown signs of life as of late, and should continue to come back to form.
Right now, he will be without Shea Weber, so there will still be a lot of pressure on him in the remaining three months of the regular season.
Named to the 2018 All-Star Game as well, it shows how much respect his name carries around the NHL, and points to his overall skill level. However, with the big money contract kicking in next season, he needs to maintain consistency in order to show he was worth the price.
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