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Breaking down film: Preventable bad luck against Price

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It seems the only way to score on Carey Price these days is to be perfect, or lucky.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Boston Bruins Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

One of the byproducts of studying the goaltending position, and its minutiae, is that I spend an awful lot of time trying to understand why goals happen. I don’t focus so much on the systems aspect as much as I do the individual events that lead up to a specific goal. Sometimes a shot is perfectly placed, or the goalie is screened. Other times, a goalie might make a mistake in position or save selection. At all levels of hockey, though, many goals either happen, or they don’t, because of a confluence of events. We tend to call that “luck.”

Many lucky goals, either “good” or “bad,” are the result of obvious circumstances. A shot goes off a player’s skate or knee and redirects where the goalie doesn’t expect it, for example, or a puck bounces oddly off the boards or glass.

Like this beauty scored by the Boston Bruins Tuesday during the 3-2 Canadiens win:

Sometimes, though, goals are scored because of totally preventable bad luck.

A goal caused by “preventable bad luck” could have been avoided simply by changing one conscious decision by a single player. As an example, take a look at the power play goal scored by Boston’s Ryan Spooner in the third period of the Canadiens previous 4-2 victory over the Bruins on Saturday October 22.

With the Canadiens leading 3-1, Andrei Markov slides to block a cross crease pass by David Backes (42). The puck travels uninterrupted beneath Markov’s shins to Clayton Spooner (51) on the “back door.” Carey Price has no reasonable chance to stop Spooner’s shot, but the play should never have gotten that far.

Price knows that from where Backes has the puck, there are two significant threats. The first is a pass to Patrice Bergeron (37) in the slot. The other is a cross-crease pass to Spooner. Of the two, Spooner’s shot is the one that will be nearly impossible to stop. So… Price prepares to block or deflect any pass within his reach.

With the puck relatively close, and below the goal line on his stick side, Price is appropriately in a paddle-down RVH post coverage (stick paddle on the ice, right shoulder on the post, near pad sealed horizontal to the ice, back pad diagonal and left inside edge engaged).

From this position, he has excellent vision of the puck carrier, and is able to combat most threats with a simple adjustment of his upper body and back pad. The position also enables him to intercept a cross-crease pass within his reach, as he successfully does later in the same game.

So, what happens? Markov slides prone, skates first, toward the goal line, attempting to block Backes’ pass. His path takes him into the crease.

Good things usually don’t happen from having extra skate blades in the crease, and this is no exception. The defenseman’s left skate drives into the blade of Carey’s stick, pushing it up off the ice, and wide to Price’s right. Backes’ pass gets through, and Spooner has an easy finish.

This isn’t just a gritty defensive play by Markov that happens to have an unlucky result. Backes has clearly decided to play the puck at Markov’s legs, either because he sees a hole he thinks he can get the puck through, or he figures he’ll hit it off of the Habs’ defenseman and cause a little goal mouth chaos.

It’s not that crazy that the puck goes directly under Markov’s shins. They’re elevated off the ice when Markov is prone because of, well, human anatomy. Backes also had the option to saucer a pass over Markov’s knees.

Not only is Price prevented from blocking Backes’ pass, but Markov’s skate on Carey’s stick interferes with Price’s ability to rotate and push to his left in an attempt to get his glove on Spooner’s shot.

Markov’s decision to leave his feet is the single most important factor in the outcome of this play, and it’s completely unnecessary. Even if he blocks the pass, he’s not in a position to control the puck or clear the zone, and his momentum is taking him away from the opponents in front of the net. Markov should understand that Price will disrupt any pass within his reach, and be prepared to clear any unexpected bounces or rebounds. Instead, he creates the lucky break that the Bruins need to cut the Canadiens’ lead to one goal, midway through the 3rd period of a tense game against a hated rival.

When Price is playing well, as he has been, it can seem like the only way to score on him is to be either perfect, or lucky. On this play, the Bruins were both. Backes and Spooner execute perfectly, and Markov provides the luck.

I bring this up because over his last 4 games, all victories, Carey Price has faced 161 shots. That’s a lot of opportunities for opponents to get lucky. If the Habs are going to allow 40 shots a game on a regular basis, it will be important to prevent as much bad luck as possible.