There were so many storylines in Game 5 to choose from. The big line was back together and crushing it. The defence spent more time moving the puck forward and less time playing paddy cake with each other. And Armia did his “once in a fortnight” impression of Dino Ciccarelli.
But, as a goalie myself, I had to talk about the goaltending. Throughout these playoffs, Carey Price has put up astounding numbers but hasn’t looked quite like himself while doing it. He’s been playing deep in his net and his motions haven’t been the same. In Game 2 we saw him attempt to make a stacked pads save because he ran out of steam in his butterfly slide. We’ve seen him let in at least two goals because he didn’t pivot back to the post while pushing. And we’ve seen his feet miss the post and get him stuck out of position without the post to push off or orient himself.
Please don’t misunderstand me: he’s stopping the puck and that’s all that matters. But last night, we saw a Price who was much more calm and aggressive; a paradox, but a good one. This save off of William Nylander was the perfect embodiment of what I’m talking about.
The first thing that you’ll notice is that he’s playing just outside the top of his crease. He’s very compact and not leaving any holes through his body. The next thing is that when he pushes to his right he immediately brings his trailing leg back under him to cover the five-hole. Finally you’ll notice the angle of his glove change slightly, as Nylander gets closer, to be what goalies call “five down.” Basically that just means that his glove angles towards the ice to square up against the release point of the puck. This greatly increases the efficiency of that glove movement once the shot actually happens.
We often hear that some elite goalies can get in the heads of opponents. We saw tangible proof of that on Thursday. By repeatedly making difficult saves look routine, by constantly stopping breakaway, odd-man rushes, and slot shots with seemingly prescient movements, Price started altering the way Leafs forward thought about their plays.
On another breakaway, Zach Hyman pulled off a great feint, changing the angle of his blade a couple of times to fake a chip-shot before attempting a five-hole release. Price didn’t bite. His stick went down to close the space between his pads a quarter of a second before the shot.
A couple of shifts later, Hyman got another chance to take Price one-on-one. He had space to walk in the slot, an open shooting lane, and plenty of time to lace deception into a release, but decided against taking the shot. He cut away from the slot and looked for a pass or, at least, a different angle at Price. Hyman didn’t think that his release was enough. He felt he had to make Price move, otherwise he didn’t stand a chance to beat him.
The video was pulled from Steve Dangle’s stream of the game. His reaction to both plays is fitting.
Despite looking good, last night was the worst statistical night for him in the playoffs. As per Natural Stat Trick he let in three goals on 2.6 expected goals against. These expected goals are determined by how many high-, mid-, and low-danger shots he faces and the various chances of them going in.
Every other game in this series he’s outperformed the expected goals, a stat that’s called Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAE). So it’s perplexing in a game where he looked so good that he underperformed the league average.
The reason why? Because he let in two shots that were labeled mid-danger. In particular, the slapshot through traffic was not his best moment of the evening. It was screened, but the screen was far enough away that he should have been able to fight through it. Instead I didn’t see him try to look around or change his angle, he just dropped into a butterfly when he heard the shot. To underline this point, in the playoffs, the average goal scored against Price has come from further away than any other goalie who has played a full game.
As any goalie knows, if you let a stinker in you have to battle harder and stop two grade-A chances to make up for it (no statistical backing here, just a goalie thing). Well, I’d say putting up a high-danger save percentage of .923 compared to Campbell’s .667 last night can be called battling!