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Eyes on the Price: Basic Instinct — Goalie duel in Vancouver

Ryan Miller’s stellar effort in Vancouver wasn't enough to overcome Carey Price and the Canadiens

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Six Straight and Counting

Rogers Centre in Vancouver was bedecked in red on Tuesday evening, and the Canadiens treated the Western Canadian faithful to yet another exciting overtime win, defeating the Canucks 2-1 on Paul Byron’s overtime goal.

Torrey Mitchell opened the scoring early in the first period with a deflection past Ryan Miller, but that was all the Habs could manage in regulation. The Canucks, playing what seemed like a road game, battled their way to a 1-1 tie behind the stellar play of Miller and a late deflection by Michael Chaput that finally eluded Carey Price.

Miller deserved a better fate than to lose on an odd redirect off of Paul Byron’s “midsection.”

For the first two periods, he was under significantly more pressure than Price, but the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner was easily up to the task.

Watch Miller’s aggressive challenge against Nathan Beaulieu, for example. (With honorable mention to Beaulieu for the leaping samurai second effort!)

Although Miller makes this save with his right shoulder, his active, forward hand position gives him the ability to move his right upper arm quickly into the path of Beaulieu’s attempt.

Miller also shows some real veteran determination in the third, with his Canucks pushing hard for the tying goal but still trailing. Facing a quick counterattack from Artturi Lehkonen, he makes an initial save on a good wrist shot, then tracks the puck through a sea of legs to make a smooth pad save to his left on Alex Galcheyuk’s second attempt.

“Instinct” isn’t a word that’s used too often in goaltending discussions, but it’s an interesting topic to consider. Often, commentators will mention a goalie’s ability to “read the play,” or his or her “focus.” These ideas hint at a goaltender’s instinct, but don’t fully explore the concept.

Take Miller’s second save on this Canadiens’ rush. When the rebound is out in front of the net, the puck gets kicked to his glove side. Just as he engages his right inside edge to push, Miller reaches his left arm out, using his glove hand to provide leverage against Lehkonen, and create the space to move past him. He isn’t looking at Lehkonen when he does it, he just senses that this is something he needs to do. It’s an instinctive move that enables Miller to push fully to his left, where he’s able to extend his left pad and make the second save.

Just before this sequence, Price makes two stellar saves of his own on the Canucks’ Nicolay Goldobin that illustrate a different kind of “instinct.”

Goldobin (82) finds himself alone behind both Shea Weber and Andrei Markov, receiving the puck with his back to Price. Before Goldobin has fully turned, Price is in an aggressive paddle-down, wide butterfly technique, ready to push to his right to defend a forehand from Goldobin. Clearly, he reads the forward’s move to his forehand. His assessment of the threat, though, his instinct, tells him that Goldobin will not be able to elevate the puck.

His aggressive ice seal with his stick and pads stops Goldobin’s initial shot.

Price maintains a high and forward left hand position throughout the sequence, which enables him to make a second save with the cuff of his glove during the ensuing scramble.

This was actually Goldobin’s second encounter with Price’s goaltending instinct. The first occurred early in the game, under different circumstances.

(Yes, Markov and Weber were also victimized on the play. These old pros are quite non-dynamic in the defensive zone, which bears watching as their minutes pile up.)

Lucas Sbisa (5) sends the puck past Dwight King’s forecheck, and the outstanding Bo Horvat (53) redirects the puck to Sven Baertschi (47) on the left blue line.

Goldobin outraces Weber on a center drive while Baertschi carries the puck up the wing.

Baertschi feathers the puck past Markov to Goldobin, who is ahead of Weber in the slot.

Price has moved his stick blade into position to deflect the puck if the pass eludes Goldobin. However, he has fully maintained a low, balanced stance on his skates in anticipation that Goldobin will catch the puck and have an opportunity to shoot, or make a move to either side.

Goldobin doesn’t fully control the pass, as the puck slips just under his stick blade. There is certainly a chance for Price to attempt a poke check here, as the puck hasn’t significantly changed course. Price, though, reacts as if this is a breakaway.

Rather than attempt a deflection with his stick, he seals his left pad on the ice, and pushes across to defend Goldobin’s backhand shot attempt.

As we previously discussed about breakaway technique, it’s important to note that Price’s push is directed diagonally past the far post rather than directly across the crease. There is no way for Goldobin to hold on to the puck and reach it around Price’s extended left pad, nor is he able to jam in a second rebound attempt on his forehand.

When Carey Price is at his best, it’s mesmerizing to watch how he is seemingly prepared for all possibilities, and instinctively able to make tactical adjustments as game situations unfold.

Price’s last six wins have featured five one-goal victories. Three were decided in overtime, and one in a shootout. In those five one-goal games, he has outdueled Henrik Lundqvist, Frederik Andersen, Sergei Bobrovsky, Pekka Rinne, and now Ryan Miller.

These goalies have different technical styles but they all share a commitment to their craft, a fundamental competitive drive to win, and yes, an instinct to find a way to stop the puck.

They, along with every other NHL goaltender, also share another instinct.

It’s the one that nags at them every time they go up against the Habs, just as it must have nagged at Ryan Miller on Tuesday night in Vancouver.

It’s that instinct that anytime Carey Price is on the other end of the ice, even their absolute best may not be good enough.