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Eyes on the Price: Rocky Mountain Not So High

Why Carey Price and the Habs were buried by the Avalanche

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Something’s happening here. What it is, ain’t exactly clear.

The Canadiens traveled to Colorado after their Super Bowl matinee weekend losses, and the thin air was not kind. The Avalanche partly avenged their 10-1 December loss in Montreal with a 4-0 home victory over the Habs. The Avs scored two goals in the first 3 minutes, added one in the 2nd period and one more in the 3rd.

Most of the damage was done by 20-year old Colorado forward Mikko Rantanen, who celebrated his first NHL hat trick. Carey Price appeared to have been screened by Shea Weber on Rantanen’s first goal, just 30 seconds in. Rantanen scored his second in the 2nd period on a tip-in form former Hab Mark Barberio’s point shot, and netted his 3rd in the 3rd with the Avs on a 2-man advantage, also with an assist from Barberio. Nathan McKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog each contributed two assists as well.

Andreas Martinsen provided the lone non-Rantanen Avalanche goal 2:25 into the first period to give the Avs the early 2-goal lead.

Francois Beauchemin (32) chips the puck up the left defensive boards past Andrew Shaw in the direction of Martinsen (27). Jeff Petry attempts to hold the puck in the offensive zone with a one-arm poke check, but Martinsen beats him to the punch. He knocks it off the left side wall with his right hand, past Petry, and races up the ice with Joe Colborne (8) to his right, resulting in a 2-on-1 against the Habs’ Nathan Beaulieu.

Martinsen carries the puck into the left face-off circle, rips a forehand from between the face off dot and the hash marks, and beats Price 5-hole.

As Martinsen races up the wing, Price challenges well out of his crease. He appears to be fully focused on the shooter, with Beaulieu in position defend the cross ice pass.

He flows back to just above the top of the crease as the Avalanche forward drives further.

Up until release, Price is steady in his stance.

Just after the shot release, his left shoulder is slightly raised and rotated back, while his right knee drops, and his stick angles so that only the heel is on the ice.

Some goalies use a half-butterfly move to close their “5-hole” between their pads, and create a taller vertical coverage on the glove side, stacking the glove on top of the leg pad. That isn’t quite what Price is doing. This appears to be a similar move to the one Price uses quite effectively on the remarkable glove save he made against Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen (55) at the end of regulation in the Habs overtime loss on January 21.

This would suggest that Price was expecting a high glove attempt. He may also have seen that the puck was on edge as Martinsen prepared to shoot, causing him to further anticipate a high glove shot.

When Martinsen shoots low, though, this technique leaves Price completely vulnerable. Because this isn’t a true half-butterfly, there’s no ice seal under his right pad. There also isn’t any “5-hole” seal between the inner edge of his left pad and the top of the thigh rise of his right pad, and his stick is mostly off the ice. The puck appears to pass just above the heel of his stick blade, under his left knee, and bounce off the inner landing gear of his left pad into the net.

Price attempts to recover by willing his left pad down to the ice and driving his right pad further across underneath him, but the puck is already past. He finishes the play off-balance, and without speculating too much, the brief glimpse of his body language suggests that he is not happy with himself.

After the Habs’ euphoric early season, which included a truly dominant stretch from Price, both the Habs and their star goalie have cooled off a little. It’s important to remember, though, that in regard to Price, “cooled off” can sometimes mean “someone scored and it wasn’t an accident.”

However, there have been enough high goals on him over the past couple of months that it’s caught the attention of Habs fans. Most recently, the Washington Capitals scored 3 high ones on him on February 4, and Matt Read’s goal the preceding game in Philadelphia also surprised a few Price-watchers.

So, is there something going on? On a Philadelphia radio post-game show, the host claimed that one of the Flyers forwards had told him previously that the “book” on Price was to shoot “far side high off the rush.” Just for the record, that’s pretty much the book on any goaltender playing in the NHL, because guys who give up goals short-side and low don’t tend to last very long.

So no, I don't think there’s a “book” on Carey Price other than “take your best shot and hope it’s enough.” It’s important to remember that sometimes, good players make good plays and they score. The goals we are talking about are high-quality chances on which NHL players are executing perfectly. Playing against “the best” will often elevate a player’s focus. For example, Philly fans on talk radio were remarking that they hadn’t seen a shot like that from Matt Read in 2 years! Over time, without getting deep into the statistical basis, it’s reasonable to suggest that the shots currently beating Price will stop being so perfect, and we’ll be talking about saves and wins rather than goals and losses.

Which brings us back to that second Avalanche goal, because it raises a question less likely to be answered by statistical probability. It’s rare to see Price beaten through the legs on a clean shot attempt. His patience and positioning, as well as his stick discipline, usually allow him to drop into a full butterfly and simply smother shots like this one. Having seen shooter after shooter go high on him for weeks now, and after having given up three high ones to the Capitals in his last outing, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Price was anticipating a high, far side attempt by Martinsen, and was fooled completely.

This goal certainly left some Habs fans wondering if they should start to worry about Carey Price. The more important question it raises, though, is whether Carey Price has started to worry about himself.

That’s unlikely, but it’s something to keep an eye on as the Canadiens slog their way to what is looking more and more like a welcome bye week.