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The fundamental brilliance of Carey Price: An examination of his first save of the season

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It was a long time between starts for the Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender, but Price picked up right where he left off.

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Carey Price returned to the Montreal Canadiens‘ lineup on Thursday night against the Arizona Coyotes, and was credited with 27 saves in the Habs 5-2 victory. I thought I’d break down his most important save: his first!

With just over six minutes gone in the first period, Max Domi (16) of the Coyotes enters the offensive zone through centre ice with Anthony Duclair (10) trailing. Domi skates right, drawing Shea Weber, then delays just inside the top of the circle. Duclair drives down the left slot, occupying Nathan Beaulieu.

Coyotes defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) trails just wide of Duclair, and Domi gets him the puck at the top of the left circle. OEL glides forward, then releases a shot from the faceoff dot. Price drops into butterfly and the puck appears to hit him either in the chin, or his upper chest. The rebound is a bit dangerous, but no harm comes from it. Welcome back, #31!

I thought Price looked a little rusty at times. Rarely does he fall backward, as he does in the scramble following this first save.

Rust isn’t surprising, given that Carey’s only game speed hockey in nearly a year was behind Team Canada in the recent World Cup of Hockey. Add to that his recent bout with the flu, and I imagine it will take a few outings before we see him at his best.

This is a nice initial save sequence to review, though, because it shows the fundamental base that makes Carey Price so good. On Thursday night in Philadelphia, Anaheim’s John Gibson provided this example for comparison:

Although the goal by Wayne Simmonds is the result of two beautiful passes by Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, and some poor defensive coverage by the Ducks, it’s clear that Gibson is just finishing his transition into an upright stance when Voracek’s pass goes by him.

Halfway across the crease, Gibson’s head is turned to the left, following the puck. His shoulders, though, are aligned nearly straight up the centre of the ice; “trailing” the play.

Once Voracek passes, which the Ducks’ goalie has to allow for because the Flyers are on a power play, Gibson has absolutely no chance to get back across his crease.

There’s no question that this is a very good goal, and that Simmonds would likely score no matter what. Gibson is so close to making this save, though!

It’s possible that, had he utilized the same fundamental skating technique demonstrated by Price on his first save Thursday night, Gibson might have given himself a chance to make an absolutely amazing play.

With that in mind, notice how Price moves across his crease from left to right on Thursday against the Coyotes.

When Domi makes his pass, Price rotates his head and upper body to his right, and opens his right hip. This turns his right skate blade onto his intended path. He pushes off with his left inside skate edge, and uses his right skate to glide. He stops his lateral motion by re-establishing his right inside skate edge when he reaches the right side of his crease. At this point, he is facing what he has anticipated as Ekman-Larsson’s shot path, and he pushes forward along that line to his final intended position. He then sets in his stance, ready for the coming shot.

For a near exact comparison, here are still photos of Al Montoya and Carey Price, both moving from left to right across the crease. The images on the left are of Montoya during the home opener, preparing to make the save we reviewed in my last post.

As with Gibson, Montoya’s head is facing the puck (to his right on this play), but his shoulders are facing up centre ice, and he is sliding on his pads. He still has to stop his slide, rise up to his skates, and turn his upper body in order to be in position to make a save. Price, on the right, has his upper body already aligned to the anticipated shot, and never leaves his skates. Carey only has to get to where he wants to go, then stop.

This is simple, elegant, fundamental goaltending. He uses a basic “T-push,” performed exactly as a goalie coach would teach a kid learning to play the position. He rotates his head and upper body before his right hip and skate, establishes an optimal angle to the scoring threat while traveling the minimum distance necessary to cross his crease, then finally pushes out along that line to gain depth and “cut down the angle.”

There is no wasted time or motion. As a result, he is set before the shot is released, allowing him to make whatever type of save is necessary.

As Habs fans already know, the effortless efficiency on display here sets Price apart from other NHL goalies. He makes routine saves look easy, he makes difficult ones look simple, and his fundamental brilliance always give him a chance to do something amazing. This is the essence of Carey Price. Even if he is a little rusty.