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Eyes on the Price: Shutting down McDavid and the Oilers

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Carey Price holds off Connor McDavid and the Oilers, and the Habs rebound in Edmonton

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Canadiens finished off their brief swing through Western Canada in style, downing the Oilers 4-1 on Sunday evening in Edmonton’s Rogers Place.

The win allowed Montreal to demonstrate the resilience necessary to rebound from a dispiriting 5-0 loss in Calgary on Thursday night, and temporarily regain first place in the Atlantic Division.

The Habs were held scoreless through the first two periods on Sunday, and entered the third trailing 1-0. What turned out to be Edmonton’s lone goal came in the second, when one of the Oilers’ forwards outmuscled Alexei Emelin for the puck in the neutral zone, then surprised Carey Price with a quick five-hole shot. (The forward in question wears #27 for Edmonton, and formerly wore #17 for the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings. His name and likeness will not be publicized.)

Paul Byron knotted the game with less than 7 minutes to go, finally beating the Oilers’ Cam Talbot on a low angle drive and wide forehand sweep. Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk combined for the go-ahead goal on a double deflection soon thereafter, and Pacioretty and Byron finished off the Oilers with a couple of empty netters to secure the victory.

Price was flawless after the goal by the Oiler-Not-To-Be-Named, providing plenty of content for the Sunday highlight packages. This stop on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93), for example, was pivotal during a 4-minute second period penalty kill.

The most exciting and dramatic save occurred just before Byron’s goal in the third, when Price flew across the crease to his left to deny Patrick Maroon (19) and prevent the Oilers from taking a two goal lead.

Price’s save on Connor McDavid with less than 3 minutes remaining, and the Habs protecting their 2-1 lead, won’t show up on too many season reviews.

Kris Russell (4) collects the puck below the goal line to Talbot’s left and, knowing that Connor McDavid (97) is the fastest human skater on the planet, sends the puck the length of the ice while the Canadiens are changing. McDavid outraces Emelin to the puck as it bounces off the corner boards.

As the puck bounces out of the corner, Price assumes an upright post-integration position. His left skate is inside the post, his left knee is bent, and his left shoulder and upper arm are against the post. His glove is turned inward, inside the post alongside his left thigh, and the back of his left wrist is against the inside of the left post.

This is a fairly consistent post stance among goalies at all levels, and it often results in a small, open triangular space below the glove.

McDavid doesn't just backhand the puck randomly at the net. He is shooting directly at this small triangle of open space. Price tracks the puck and lowers his glove, making the save with the outer webbing of the pocket.

Nothing that happens during this sequence is an accident, including Russell’s 198-foot pass to start the play.

McDavid knows that at least once during the NHL season, a shot just like this one will go in. Price’s initial post position is taught to every goalie at every level of hockey, and McDavid clearly knows where to find the hole in it. At full speed, off his backhand, he’s able to put the puck exactly on target.

Price, on the other hand, knows that any player with the puck is a threat to score, particularly if it’s Connor McDavid. He knows just where his own vulnerability might be in this situation, and he knows exactly how to defend it.

Price moves his glove with perfect efficiency in response to McDavid’s shot. He drops it straight down, maintaining its seal with the post as well as his left pad, and leaves no room for the puck to squeeze through.

In a game featuring its fair share of goaltending heroics on both ends of the ice, this seems to be a relatively unspectacular confrontation.

On closer examination, it’s a fascinating look at two NHL superstars doing battle over 3 inches of open net.

Price doesn’t make this important save against Connor McDavid because he does something amazing. He makes it because he understands the fundamentals of his position, and does something simple.

Carey Price has been at the top of his profession long enough to know that when superstars do battle, the smallest detail often makes all the difference.