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The swatter of pucks saved our sorry butts

Try as they might to close down the chances, Price still had to be at his best in the final minutes.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Vegas Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

I know what I did wrong. Before Game 1 my neck was killing me and I forgot to mow the 71 in my front lawn. Well, disaster averted last night. Jake Evans has been properly honored and the Habs put up a fitting performance.

In my first article for Eyes On The Prize entitled “Freaky Friday,” I wrote about how it was puzzling that the Montreal Canadiens lost the Corsi battle but won the expected goals battle. However, as we’re seeing this happen more and more, I think maybe it’s time that we realize that the identity of this team under Dominique Ducharme has changed. Montreal is looking more like the New York Islanders (or Saints?). The Habs are defending well and then taking full advantage of whatever opportunities are given.

But, as Frasier said to Niles, “The only thing better than a fabulous meal, is a fabulous meal with one small flaw to pick at all night.” That flaw last night was that the team shut down defensively in the third period and it nearly cost them the game.

In the first period, the Vegas Golden Knights had 0.32 expected goals in all situations. The second period saw them play a lot better and be granted a power play, which gave them a total of 0.99 expected goals. In the third, Montreal came out better at the beginning, but by the end started trying to just clog the front of the net.

If this strategy was good then Carey Price would not have had to make several incredible saves at the end of the game. The defence would have taken care of all of the rebounds, slot shots, and one-timers.

What I want to focus on is not just the incredible saves, but the variety of tools this swatter of pucks has in his tool belt. Below is an example of an incredibly athletic save, the kind Price has been making all playoffs.

If I were to break down that save for you it would be very short. I’d say, “Wow, that’s really amazing.” But our editor wants more than four words. And, frankly, Marc Andre Fleury is making tons of saves like that. What is really setting Price apart is the small saves he’s doing well.

Someone — I forget who and Google isn’t helping — once said, “Jack Nicklaus wasn’t the best golfer because of all the birdies and eagles he got, but because of all of the pars.” So let’s call this next sequence of saves “par saves.”

Shea Theodore, an offensively gifted defenceman, gets the puck in an open area and takes a good wristshot. Price is already there for an “easy” butterfly save, and then Mattias Janmark gets two opportunities from two rebounds.

Notice in Janmark’s second opportunity that Price lifts his right leg, moves his body a minuscule amount and then drops it again for his third perfect save in a row. Microadjustments like this are often overlooked but incredibly important. If he didn’t move he’d be in a bad position, if he moved but didn’t reset that leg then the five hole is open. This kind of poise can only be developed with a lifetime of practice. How do you tell a 14-year-old “hey, today we’re going to practice moving one inch”?

Oftentimes when a “bad goal” is let it in it’s due to a lack of these microadjustments. The fact that no movement is too big or too small for the $10.5 million man to make is just perfect in my book. So, keep calm and Carey on!