Last season was a wild ride for the Montreal Canadiens. They started with expectations that they would be a bottom-dwelling team and would vie for one of the top three spots in the draft. Instead, we saw how they battled to get 96 points and almost made the playoffs.
This off-season sees the same team being brought back, substracting a few notables names in Andrew Shaw and Jordie Benn.
Nothing is guaranteed this year except maybe the fact that Price seems to have found his groove. To end the last year, he was back to his original standards of carrying the team on his shoulders.
For this piece, I’ll be referencing most of the stats used in the earlier Keith Kinkaid article. Now, let’s dive into the resurgence of Price.
Starting the 2018-19 season, Carey Price had a lot to prove to others, but also to himself. The 2017-18 year was a bad one for him. He finished with a save percentage (Sv%) of .900, a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.11, quality-start percentgae (QS%) of just .438, and posted a goals saved above average (GSAA) mark of -17.49.
That season was the definition of a shockingly off year. What’s more, during the summer of 2017, Price had signed his enormous contract extension, adding a layer of complexity. The eight-year, $84-million contract extension was seen by some as a risky move and an overpayment for an aging goaltender. At $10.5 million per year, Price was paid like the Kanes and Toews of the world. He had a lot of pressure to produce at an elite pace for the duration of his contract.
There was also some cause for concern because Price had a history of knee issues.
You can imagine how important the 2018-19 season was to Price. He needed to show he was still a top-tier goalie and had to put those creeping doubts to rest.
To begin with, Price made a few adjustments this year to his stance and puck-tracking. He decided to tackle this year standing a little more straight to allow himself to track pucks more easily. A higher stance also allowed for easier reactions on glove and blocker saves. On the negative side, a higher stance demands more solid work toward the butterfly. If you keep yourself up and square to the shooter, it takes more time and energy to drop into the butterfly position.
Minor adjustments to one’s game at the NHL level can actually make quite the difference. Price has always been a strong technical goaltender, the type to rarely be caught flopping in his crease due to his excellent form.
Here’s a perfect example of this new upright stance Price was using. Looking at the video above, you can see how Price stays upright a little longer before dropping into the butterfly. He stays square to the shooter, keeping himself in his stance a little longer before dropping when the opposing player approaches. Price can do that because of how strong his technical game is.
In the example above, by staying upright a little longer, he’s able to track the puck better, and understood that a cross-ice pass was coming. In that moment, he has an easier time pushing to his left to make this key save.
Admittedly, Price had a rocky start to the season, but won eight of his 11 starts in December, which helped him carry that momentum into the remainder of the year. That was significant because it showed how Price could regain his elite form and still be a force to be reckoned with.
Last year, Price showed he can still be a difference-maker in this league. He played 66 games, posting a record of 35-24-6 and four shutouts. His .918 save percentage was more in line with what we’re used to seeing from him. The biggest takeaway was his GSAA of 14.94; by himself, Price saved almost 15 goals above what the average in the NHL would have.
Price is very much still a top 10 goaltender, right there with all the best goalies stats wise, and that’s with the rough start he had in the opening months. It’s why he still received some consdieration for the Vezina.
The biggest issue to end the year was the 66 games he had played. At this point in his career, Price would be best served playing around 50-55 games maximum, needing a capable backup to take on the remaining workload.
As luck would have it, Stephane Waite confirmed that Keith Kinkaid should ideally start 25 games next season, which would leave 57 for the number one. As Price ages, I believe keeping it closer to 50 would be a boon. That would allow for Price to focus on his game, his energy, and would lessen the burden of a 60-plus-game grind on his body before the post-season even begins.
Kinkaid has been brought into the fold to give Price an established, veteran netminder for support. Kinkaid is an interesting candidate for a bounce-back performance and could potentially be a good fit if last year was only an anomaly.
As much as I love Price — his poise, his calmness, his technical prowess — I don’t think people should be expecting Hart Trophy-calibre play every year from now until the end of his contract. That’s not just because he’s older and has dealt with multiple injuries throughout his career, but also because the average NHL save percentage has dropped from .915 to .909 over that time.
Making saves is getting harder every year in the NHL — by design. The changes made to the goaltender gear has changed the game significantly. Add more penalties given to teams, rule changes to keep the play in the offensive zone, stronger overall play on the power play, an emphasis on skill rather than grit, and younger offensive players making a bigger impact, goalies will always get the short end of the stick.
Still, Price should have a few more years in him of being a top-10 goaltender. He’ll keep showing flashes of brillance and elite level play, I just don’t think it’s fair to hold him to those standards every year. I believe Price could easily still be a game-changer until his mid-30s but with his desire to win now and a core of aging player, the immediate future for both him and the team will be interesting to watch.