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Eyes on the Price: Penalty kill woes

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Carey Price has given up a few more goals in the last couple of weeks, but the Habs’ train keeps rolling.

Montreal Canadiens v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Is it fair to suggest that the Lady Byng Trophy is off the table for Carey Price after the Canadiens’ 4-2 home win over the New Jersey Devils on December 8?

Price shows some pretty impressive, though questionably necessary, superhero form as he pummels poor Kyle Palmieri. Here’s a reverse angle view:

Hand and body efficiency had been on my mind already for a couple of days, after Jeff Carter (77) and Drew Doughty (8) both scored similar power play goals on Sunday, December 4, in the Habs’ 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.

Carter:

Doughty:

Actually, Carter and Doughty score nearly identical goals. Tanner Pearson (70) sets a moving screen, Carter and Doughty both hold their release until he crosses in front of Price, and then they shoot to exactly the same spot.

Note that Price isn’t beaten above his shoulder on these shots, but outside his shoulder and above his glove. The problem isn’t that Price is down in his butterfly. The problem is that he is defaulting to an upright, blocking butterfly with a low, inefficient hand position.

Watch Price’s upper body become more vertical in response to Doughty’s release:

Price keeps his hands down as his shoulders rock back, committing his glove to a low shot trajectory.

Among the reasons that this old-style “drop and block” butterfly technique has fallen out of favor is that it gives goaltenders virtually no chance to stop the exact shots that victimize Price on these goals.

Mike Hoffman’s power play goal on November 22, in the Habs’ 4-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators, provides another example.

By committing his glove low, Price leaves only a shoulder shrug or a winged elbow to defend against a higher trajectory shot. Admittedly, Price is very adept at making shoulder saves, like the one he makes on Erik Karlsson just before Hoffman’s goal.

However, there’s only so much additional space a shoulder or a winged elbow can cover. Hoffman’s shot actually grazes Price’s upper arm on the way into the net.

(At this point, there are plenty of subjects for further reading if anyone is interested. Begin with Clare Austin's “Cutting Down the Angle,” part of InGoal Magazine’s Goalies 101 series. Head Trajectory — often credited with saving the Minnesota Wild’s Devan Dubnyk from the scrap heap — is a proprietary technique taught primarily by Lyle Mast, and it’s a little hard to find detailed public information. Other theories, like “box control,” are a little easier to read up on.)

There’s a lot of math involved in modern goaltendending theory. Triangles define potential shot trajectories and their relationship to the open net in multiple planes. The goal itself even has variable relative size depending on the origin and path of the puck, so it’s not just about angles and triangles, but shape-shifting quadrilaterals as well.

Accounting for all that trigonometry, it turns out that it is desirable for a goaltender to maintain a forward tilt to his or her upper body, along with a forward hand position. The amount of lean, and optimal hand height, varies depending on where the puck is on the ice. This allows the outer margins of the upper body to move forward into the more narrow parts of the shot ranges, and enables smaller movements to intercept a wider range of trajectories.

Taking this a step further, the basic idea is this: goaltenders don't need to make themselves “big” to cover the big net behind them. If, instead, they are able to focus on covering a smaller “virtual net” just in front of them, then they will be able to defend more potential shot trajectories with much more efficient hand and body motions.

Back in October, Price himself showed much more effective technique while battling a screen against Toronto.

For starters, check the height of Price’s glove at release (right), compared to its position on Doughty’s goal.

It’s also important to note the transitional movement of Price’s body and his hands. Against Carter’s shot, for example, he begins in an aggressive stance, but his shoulders transition backwards as his glove drops down. He tries to raise his glove to the shot trajectory, but it is well late (sorry for the screenshot resolution).

Against Toronto, Price’s body action is the opposite, transitioning into a more aggressive angle as he establishes his butterfly. His glove maintains a steady height and a more forward position. He nearly catches the screened shot cleanly, and is in good position for a secondary recovery. Had the initial shot been lower, he would have been able to make the same small downward glove move to intercept the trajectory.

Without doubt, this more efficient technique would have given Price a better chance to stop either, or both, of the Kings’ power play goals in the Habs’ December 8 victory, and might also have allowed him to make a save against Hoffman in the earlier loss to Ottawa.

It’s odd to criticize Price for utilizing inefficient technique, since he’s usually the perfect instructional model of, well, everything. This more recent play from the Canadiens 2-1 overtime loss on December 12 is more typical. Watch how little he moves as he sets his feet, maintains his body angle and forward glove positioning, and controls a dangerous power play opportunity against the Bruins’ David Krejci (46).

Of course, three goals aren't exactly a trend, and it would be quite a stretch to suggest that the Kings, or Hoffman, were specifically targeting Price’s glove.

However, there are goalie coaches and advance scouts in every organization looking for opponents’ tendencies, and shooters don’t forget. Chances are, Mike Hoffman, Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter are already hoping for the chance to fire one just outside Price’s left shoulder with a game on the line when the weather gets warm. The guy with 31 on his Sainte-Flannelle probably won't be surprised, though. Carey Price isn’t turning into Clark Kent anytime soon.