Well, it was going to happen someday. The Canadiens were going to lose at home. Carey Price was going to lose a game. The only questions were when, to whom, and how.
The answers, as it turns out, were November 15, 4-3 in overtime to the Florida Panthers, and weirdly.
Alex Petrovic (6) scored Florida’s first goal on a shot that Price couldn't see.
Kyle Rau (92) scored the second off of a pass from Mike Matheson (19) that Price probably couldn’t believe.
Denis Malgin (62) got the third on an odd bounce off of Jeff Petry’s right knee.
Aaron Ekblad’s game winner was just, well, odd.
Usually in these pieces, I try to focus in detail on a save that demonstrates a specific fundamental of goaltending, or a play that determines the outcome of a game. I’m going to do that in this one as well.
But first, this:
Florida’s Aleksander Barkov (16) makes what will likely be one of the top 10 offensive moves of the NHL season, in overtime, and has virtually no chance to score.
When Barkov curls toward the net, Price shifts his grip to the butt of his stick for extra reach in preparation for a poke check.
Price challenges Barkov’s path, but maintains his balance and positioning.
Barkov, ridiculously (in the good way), pulls the puck back between his legs with his backhand, then flicks a hard “forehand” from between his legs behind him to Price’s right.
Price, extending his right pad, also reaches his blocker hand and stick handle back to the right, above the level of his pad, to cover additional vertical angle. This effectively takes away a large portion of the top of the net away from Barkov.
Price extends his right leg, and blocks the shot with the toe of his pad.
Sadly, this remarkable overtime save on Barkov wasn’t destined to become the signature moment of a record-tying win.
Remember “preventable bad luck”? On three of Florida’s four goals on Tuesday night, Price’s job was made more difficult by the well-intentioned efforts of his teammates. This is especially true of Aaron Ekblad’s overtime game winner, which never should have happened.
The sequence unfolds a little over a minute after Price’s save on Barkov. Alex Galchenyuk’s stick breaks, and the Habs center scrambles to cover his defensive responsibilities without it. I’d love to confirm this, but it looks like Price actually yells to him and motions with his goal stick to get off the ice. Kind of a “Go, I got this” moment, one that I wouldn't put past Price for a second.
Eventually, Galchenyuk skates to the bench and is replaced by Phillip Danault, who isn’t quite in time to prevent Ekblad (5) from setting up for a one-timer from the top of the offensive right face-off circle.
Ekblad’s stick breaks on his slapshot attempt.
The puck travels to the left, on an angle wide to the goal, except that it hits Nathan Beaulieu’s toe and redirects past Price into the net.
Price can see Ekblad’s stick break, but Beaulieu screens his view of the slowly moving shot. When the redirected puck suddenly appears after defecting off of Beaulieu’s toe, Price is unable to react quickly enough, and the win streak ends in dramatic, disappointing fashion.
Now let’s get wonky.
Here’s rough estimate of the potential on-target shot dispersion from Ekblad’s release point. The lines are to the top corners, so Beaulieu’s left lower leg is just outside the angle from Ekblad’s release point to the far post.
Notice that Price, although he’s likely a little deeper in the crease than he might like, is basically dead center in the shot cone, facing the midpoint. He’s “square,” or “covering the angle.” Price may be expecting Ekblad to shoot to the short side based on his angle of attack, and it looks as though he’s got that completely covered.
The only part of Beaulieu that is within the dispersion angle is his stick, and Price would probably rather that he get that out of the way. From where Beaulieu is positioned at the time of Ekblad’s release, the only effect his stick will have on a slapshot on net is to change the trajectory of the puck, and make Price’s job more difficult.
When Beaulieu drops into blocking position, he twists and lowers his upper body without actually moving any part of it significantly into the likely shot path.
In other words, he still isn’t going to block a shot that is on target. When he rotates, though, his body angle changes in such a way that he increases the likelihood that any puck that hits him will deflect toward the net. As far as his lowered horizontal leg is concerned, because of basic anatomy, there is open ice between his knee and his toe. Ultimately, this is how the puck finds its way off his skate and past Price.
Now look at Beaulieu’s head.
Shot blockers who use this one-knee method often turn their heads away from the shot, lest the 95-mph vulcanized rubber projectile blow through their faces. Beaulieu isn’t looking at the puck, so he isn’t able to react to the change in circumstance when Ekblad’s stick breaks. In fact, he’s still looking back toward Price at the same time that Price is trying to find the puck behind Beaulieu.
For a more detailed discussion of shot-blocking strategy and how it affects good goalies, check out Steve Valiquette’s MSG Network video piece: http://www.msgnetworks.com/videos/vallys-view-the-true-value-of-blocking-shots/. He’s speaking about Henrik Lundqvist, but the same concepts are easily applied to Carey Price.
One of Valiquette’s points about the one-knee-down technique is that it tends to take the shot blocker out of the play once the shot is released. In this example, look at Florida’s Vincent Trocheck, wide open to Price’s right. Beaulieu isn’t in position to defend against a rebound opportunity, nor would he be able to defend against Trocheck if the puck were to bounce directly off of his skate to the Florida forward.
This goal simply should not have been scored this way. Beaulieu is not in an effective position to prevent a goal himself, nor does he have proper protective equipment to withstand the impact of an NHL slapshot from that distance. His one-knee-down shot-blocking technique prevents him from defending against a broken play or a rebound opportunity, and ultimately causes a harmless shot to redirect into the net.
This isn’t meant to be a criticism of Nathan Beaulieu, specifically. The 2016-17 Canadiens roster is full of athletically courageous players who would have done exactly the same thing. It just happened to be Beaulieu’s turn.
Rather, Ekblad’s game winner is a perfect example of the downside of the NHL’s current shot-blocking culture. Reliable and effective shot-blocking is an important defensive skill. Shot-blocking “at all costs” simply increases the number of variables that can lead to an opposing goal.
Aaron Ekblad might have scored the game-winner anyway had his stick held together, but it would have taken a perfect shot to beat Price. Even then, as Aleksander Barkov found out a minute earlier, that might not have been enough.
Sometimes, the best defense is to get out of the way, and let your goalie handle it.
He’s Carey Price. He’s got this.