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Eyes on the Price: Struggles in Arizona

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Carey Price needed all the help his teammates could muster against the Coyotes

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Arizona Coyotes Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep.

Among the absolute certainties associated with being a hockey goalie, there are two that you have to accept right from the beginning. There are going to be games in which you play great and you lose, and there are going to be games when you play like crud and you win. For Carey Price, Thursday’s game in Arizona was most definitely the latter.

The Canadiens, or more specifically Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov, came to Price’s rescue and pulled off a 5-4 overtime win over the Coyotes in one of the stranger games of the season. The Canadiens thoroughly dominated the first half of the contest, and held a 2-0 lead with 8 minutes left in the second period.

I thought this save on Max Domi (16) would be the highlight, and I was preparing a nice discussion of how Price was able to keep such laser focus even though he must have been bored out of his mind.

Less than 4 minutes later, the Habs were down 3-2.

First, Christian Dvorak (18) scored a power play goal off the rush to get Arizona on the board with 6:15 remaining in the period.

Next, Domi fights tooth and nail for the second goal after Peter Holland (13) loses the puck toward the net on a breakaway, resulting in a net-front scramble.

Finally, Alex Goligoski (33) gave the Coyotes a 3-2 lead with just under 4 minutes to go in the period.

Without getting into too much speculation, it looks as though Price loses sight of the puck behind Shea Weber, who is engaged with Tobias Rieder (8) as he drives the net to Price’s left.

Goligoski trails the play, and Price clearly does not see him receive Martinook’s pass. Price just… stands there, looking out to his left for the puck.

Only at the last second does he pick up that Goligoski has a wide open net.

I’m still scratching my head.

Goals by Max Pacioretty and Alex Radulov gave the Habs a 4-3 lead by the midway point in the third period, but Price’s strange night wasn’t done yet, as Christian Dvorak tied the game with just under 5 minutes to go.

Price appears to hesitate as he considers playing Goligoski’s high lob pass, then is beaten to the puck by Dvorak. The puck bounces off of Price’s left side, his left skate kicks it back toward the net, and he makes a bizarre looking sweep of his goal stick behind him, about six inches above the ice.

In the end, though, Alex Galchenyuk’s overtime goal sent the Habs home to Montreal with the win, and the 2 points in the standings. Sometimes you play like crud, and you win.

Rather than continue an exorcism over the last two goals, it might be more useful to examine Dvorak’s first goal, arguably the only normal one of the evening.

Fair warning, though, it’s not going to make anyone feel better.

While the Habs are shorthanded, Artturi Lekhonen looks to make a deep net drive in the Arizona zone against Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23), but the veteran defenseman separates him from the puck and sends a long cross-ice pass to Max Domi at the right center line.

Shane Doan (19) supports Domi’s zone entry while Dvorak enters the zone center left, with speed. Tomas Plekanec and Alexei Emelin are in position to defend Domi high in the zone and across the blue line. Shea Weber is positioned deeper in the zone, but also shades toward the entry.

Dvorak receives Domi’s saucer pass in the left circle, with room to settle the puck.

He glides to the face-off dot, and wrists one into the top corner over Price’s glove.

Now let’s take a look at Price. He first anticipates that Domi may try to dump the puck in along the boards, so he sets himself at the left edge of his crease, eyes on the entry.

Domi’s long pass gives Price time to react, and he moves to his right. This is where his problems start. He rotates his shoulders toward his target, but he remains fairly upright, and glides across the crease rather than performing the hard T-push we’re used to seeing.

He is well within the crease when he lowers into his stance.

At this point, he’s still relatively square to the expected shot path. The problem is that he doesn't set his feet. Either he senses that he’s too deep in the crease, and is looking to gain a little depth, or the downward force of his upper body dropping into his stance simply carries too much momentum to allow him to fully control his position. When Dvorak releases his shot and Price drops into his butterfly, he is still carrying lateral momentum to his right, with several results.

His right pad drops before his left.

His right shoulder moves forward over his right pad, which forces his left shoulder and glove slightly back.

His entire upper body moves laterally to his right, rather than forward into the shot path. His left shoulder moves off the line of the shot, and the slight backward rotation of his left side keeps his glove from being able to intercept the rising shot in time. The puck passes just outside his left shoulder and over his glove.

Watching the sequence from overhead, even in slow motion it’s clear that Price is never set for the shot, and that his dominant movement continues to pull him across to his right and past the shot path.

Coming off a lackluster loss to Colorado, with the Habs up two goals and soundly beating a young Coyotes team, this is the time for Price to make a soul-crushing save. In that context, the imprecision of Price’s execution here is striking, and hard to explain.

The Canadiens are home Saturday against the streaking St. Louis Blues, in Boston on Sunday night, and then off until February 18 when they host the Winnipeg Jets. Price will likely want the Bell Centre net against the Blues after his performance in Arizona, and I’d expect a strong rebound game.

After that, the Habs should give Carey Price a head start on the bye week. Honestly, the guy in the crease in Arizona on Thursday night looked like he could use a break.