Note: Due to scheduling issues, this article wasn't posted prior to the Canadiens’ win in New York on Tuesday February 21. But don’t worry, breakdowns from that remarkable game will be coming soon!
Coming off their bye week with a road game in Winnipeg, the Canadiens dropped the first game of Claude Julien’s second coming, losing 3-1 to the Jets. The loss dropped the Habs’ record to 1-6-1 in the month of February. Officially, this is getting real.
At least Carey Price looked as if he might be Carey Price again.
Price stoned Patrik Laine (29) on these three attempts, among others, showing the Jets Finnish phenom that he wasn’t particularly excited about the rookie’s 27-goal campaign. Laine did seal the Jets’ victory with an empty net marker for his 28th of the season, but Price, on the way back to the net, made sure the 19-year old knew that he still wasn't impressed.
It was refreshing to see a little swagger out of Price, even if it didn't ultimately lead to a Habs victory, but there are issues to discuss.
I’m willing to overlook Joel Armia’s shorthanded breakaway goal to open the Jets’ scoring, and chalk it up to a little rust.
Beaulieu and Plekanec mishandle the puck in the neutral zone while looking to generate some speed on a zone entry, leading to Armia’s opportunity. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the week off, with only one practice under a new coach, might lead to some miscommunication and timing issues. Armia (40) does a decent job of selling a backhand chip, then perfectly executes his pull to the forehand. Price completely bites on this fake, something I doubt he’d do if this wasn’t his first real action in a week.
I’m much more concerned with what I saw on Winnipeg’s second goal.
Matthew Perrault (85) scored the Jets’ game winner at the beginning of the 3rd period, one-timing a backhand from the slot that beat Carey Price top blocker corner after a remarkable wide drive and pass from Dustin Byfuglien (33).
Price, as usual, does a good job of reading the play and positioning himself square to Perrault’s threat.
When Perrault redirects the puck, Price pushes out along his established angle, and is in pretty good position.
However, as he pushes forward, Price drops his blocker to the top of his right pad, moves his hand closer to his body, and rotates the face of his blocker so that it faces outward. Price’s shoulders have also straightened to a more upright position, further moving his blocker out of the path of Perrault’s shot.
The puck passes directly through the space that the top of Price’s blocker has vacated.
Price made a similar initial right hand movement when Boston’s Zdeno Chara dangled through the center slot on February 12.
Zach Bogosian’s overtime game winner for Buffalo on January 31 also comes to mind.
As we’ve previously discussed, this blocking butterfly technique is preferably replaced by a more active position in which the torso remains canted forward at the hips, pushing the shoulders forward into the vertical angle, and the hands are actively pushed forward. On the glove side, this allows for a shorter movement to intercept a shot. On the blocker side, the blocker face maintains maximum surface area orientation toward the puck, and the vertical angle is defended without sacrificing low coverage.
Even on Price’s admittedly spectacular power play save on Laine, his glove is positioned low, and behind the plane of his body as he pushes into position, resulting in an upward deflection of the shot rather than a clean catch (hard to see behind Nikolaj Ehlers’ head).
Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m a tough critic. Would I like to see Price utilize his hands more efficiently in some situations? Absolutely. His instinct to utilize a blocking butterfly technique continues to be his one consistent vulnerability. However, that’s hardly the biggest problem evident on Perrault’s game-winner.
Philip Danault is engaged with Byfuglien, but this is a physical mismatch one-on-one. Danault actually does a good job of remaining engaged with the big Jets defenseman, forcing him to control the puck one-handed and driving him toward the goal line.
Alexei Emelin is there to provide support, as is Max Pacioretty. Emelin, however, fails to engage Byfuglien effectively, turning his right hip and back to the big man, which allows Big Buf to cut to the inside and drag the puck with him. Pacioretty, on the other hand, engages too closely. He overshoots the play, and he loses sight of the puck when Byfuglien makes his move.
Alex Radulov is in the slot, a little passive but in decent position to defend against a trailer, and Shea Weber is engaged with Perrault in front of the crease.
While Emelin and Pacioretty’s suboptimal engagement of Byfuglien lead to Perrault’s opportunity, Weber’s mistake here looms even larger. Although he is fighting Perrault for position, he is drifting backward toward the right of the crease when Byfuglien cuts inside, which allows Perrault to disengage from Weber’s check.
The Jets’ forward moves to the front left of the crease, positioning himself in an ideal scoring position, while Weber finds himself out of the play on the right of the crease. Byfuglien makes his pass, and Perrault’s stick is free to bury the backhand over Price’s blocker.
This is a mistake that can’t happen. There are no far side threats, Radulov is positioned for any trailer, and Byfuglien is already engaged 1-on-3 while the Jets are changing personnel. Weber simply has no other responsibility here but to make sure that Perrault doesn’t get a clean stick on the puck.
My obsession with Price’s hand activation aside, Claude Julien must have been relieved to see the real Carey Price in goal for the inaugural game of his second run behind the Canadiens’ bench. The Habs 3-1 loss to Winnipeg, though, showed that there is plenty of work to be done. The Montreal Canadiens and their new coach suddenly find themselves in the thick of a playoff race, and there’s no time to waste.