NHL Player of the Month: Carey Price
For the second season in a row, Carey Price had a poor performance in November. He was getting little help from a defence that seemed intent on testing him with numerous odd-man rushes each game, but he just wasn’t making the big saves he typically has at this stage of his career.
Also for a second year in a row, December proved stronger, though still not up to standards he’s put in place. He was making some highlight-reel saves and turning aside some of those breakaways and two-on-ones that were nearly automatic goals against in November, and raising his save percentage to a more respectable .908 in the month, and even responsible for a few points in the standings on his own, but it still wasn’t quite what he’s capable of.
In January, we witnessed the real Carey Price.
Good Price makes highlight reels with his desperation saves and quick glove hand. Great Price deals with dangerous chances so nonchalantly those critical stops tend to garner little fanfare. That was what he displayed in the first month of 2020, giving forwards in open space no net to shoot at, seeming to know exactly where a shot would be placed and already being there to shut it down.
Despite the team starting off the new year with five straight losses, Price posted a .934 save percentage, third-highest among goalies with more than five appearances. Only Elvis Merzlikins faced more shots in January, 330 to Price’s 320 in 10 starts, and 88 of those the Habs netminder faced were from the high-danger area around his net.
His numbers didn’t dip on the penalty kill, stopping 93.0% of the shots directed his way while his team was a man short. He is the biggest reason why the penalty kill has been climbing from 30th place at the start of December to now rank 23rd.
Honourable mention: Ilya Kovalchuk
Despite an attempt in Thursday’s game versus Buffalo, Price can’t help the team with its scoring issues. But one addition made just as January began has been a revelation with his new team. Ilya Kovalchuk led all Canadiens players with five goals in his first month in Montreal, two of which were game-winners to move him into a tie for the team lead. He already ranks 14th in points, and is showing he can produce with various linemates to boot.
European Prospect of the Month: Jesse Ylönen
With seven points (4G, 3A) in 11 games for a struggling team, currently third-last in the Liiga standings, Jesse Ylönen grabs the spotlight in Europe. He is essential for the offence of his team, being directly involved in 23% of the goals that the Pelicans have scored this season. In January, the team from Lahti scored just 22 times, and Ylönen was involved in 50% of those goals. That’s an incredible feat from a prospect who has been called out for producing more or less at the same pace as last year.
His vision, quick thinking, and skill were evident in this goal, where he fakes a drop-pass for his teammate but keeps the puck and opens up the defence to create the space to release his shot.
AHL Player of the Month: Cayden Primeau
It was a great month for goalies wearing #31 in the Canadiens organization, as Cayden Primeau rebounded after some struggles in the month of December. In seven starts, Primeau went 4-1-1, with one no decision against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
In three of his four wins he allowed two goals or fewer, with the only outlier being an offensive mess of a game against Syracuse where he surrendered five, while the Rocket scored seven of their own. His shutout of Lehigh Valley moved him into a tie for third in the AHL with three shutouts total, also moving to the top rank among rookie netminders.
His goals-against average (2.63) ranks fourth among first-year goalies, his 12 wins tie him for sixth, and his .903 save percentage is also tied for sixth. Even with a rough end to 2019, Primeau showed why he’s one of the top prospects in the world between the pipes in January.
North American Prospect of the Month: Rhett Pitlick
Rhett Pitlick scored 14 points in 10 games in the month of January with the Muskegon Lumberjacks. His new team seems to be using his skating ability a lot better to complement their highly skilled forwards. When he gets going, Pitlick is a pressure machine churning at high speed. He creates a ton of turnovers on the forecheck and backcheck, and finds openings in the defensive chaos he creates. He’s also a pretty effective puck-rusher, aiding in the transition from defence to offence.
A big second half of the season could act as the springboard he needs to start his NCAA career in a productive fashion. He’s taking his development step by step, and it should lead to better results than some other players who make the jump directly from high-school hockey to the collegiate ranks.