It was not that long ago Montreal fans were begging for the organization to get rid of Carey Price. These cries could have been heard as recent as May 25th when the Canadiens fell to Toronto 4-0 and went down 3-1 in their first round series. Price, the 14 year veteran, is coming off from one of the worst statistical seasons of his career and to top it off, he has also struggled with injuries. If you were to check any media source today, you would see nothing but love from those same fans. “What has changed?” you may ask. Price has had one of the best post seasons since then, which has his team up 2-1 in a series where almost everyone outside of their fan base thought they did not have a chance. So the question going forward is “Will the Canadiens be able to ride on his back all the way to raising Lord Stanley’s Cup?” Many try to tell me that the regular season has no relevance to the playoffs. Although there may not be a direct correlation between them, there are still aspects that hold some relevance. In this instance, I would like everyone to see exactly where Price was prior to the playoffs, and the transformation he has had. Price only played in 25 games and finished the season 12-7. He had a 2.64 Goals Against Average and a 90.1 Save Percentage. Coming into the playoffs, he had not played since April 17th. Price had a -1.5 Goals Saved Above Expected and a -0.24 WAR. His High Danger Unblocked Shot Attempt Save Percent Above Expected was 0.023. Now lets look at the transformation!
In the playoffs this season, including the two bad games against Toronto, Price bolsters a 11-5 record with a 2.02 Goals Against Average and a 93.3 Save Percentage. His Goals Saved Above Expected is 9.1. That is only behind Vasilevskiy. Price’s WAR is 1.51 and his High Danger Unblocked Shot Attempt Save Percentage Above Expected is 0.707. I know this goes a bit deep into the analytics, but these numbers are extremely telling as to how good he has been. Price has been a good goalie in the league for a while but never this good. Back in March, the Canadiens got rid of long time director of goaltending Stephan White and promoted the goalie guru Sean Burke. He has helped players like Ilya Bryzgalov, Mike Smith, and Devan Dubnyk put together some of the best seasons of their careers. It appears that this move by the Canadien’s was brilliant and very well may help them win the Stanley Cup.
Price has clearly been good enough, but are the Canadiens good enough? Prior to this series I clearly said no, but I am not too big to admit when I am wrong! In this series, their recipe for success has been made very clear. When Montreal has found success they have been all over Vegas until they scored the first goal. The second they notch that first goal, they slow the pace way down and turn into a defensive shutdown team. This is exactly how they played game two. The Canadiens are not an offensive juggernaut, and as they have shown, their defense is susceptible to giving up high danger chances. The key is they play hard, block a lot of shots, and Price is there to bail them out when things fall apart. They blocked over 20 shots in the first two games they won and 18 in last night’s win. Another key is they only turned the puck over five times in game two. They did not play this way in game three until overtime. They got lucky and stole game three off an unforced error by Marc-Andre Fleury, otherwise that game ends 2-1 or 3-1 in favor of Vegas. In overtime however, they looked like the team who won game 2. Game five, Montreal completely dominated, winning 4-1. It was another game where they scored first but this time they looked like the better team from start to finish.
The young kids have been great for the Canadiens. Suzuki and Caufield are going to be a great pairing for this team for a long time to come. The key here is that there is not a ton of pressure on these guys to have to score. When you can win games 2-1 or 3-2, it takes a lot of pressure off them. The spot light, to this point, has not been too big for them. They have also been getting great play from their veterans. Perry and Staal have been very good in this series. In game three, Staal made a big mistake that gave Vegas their first goal, but he was picked up by the “kids” 38 seconds later. Besides Price, their most important player in this series has been Danault. Danault took 22 face-offs in game one, 28 in game two, 18 in game three, and 24 in game four. He is winning his face-offs at a rate of 60%. He has had many occasions in these first three games where they send him out for a 20 second shift to win a faceoff and then get off the ice as quickly as possible. In game three when Montreal played very poorly, he won almost 79% of his face-offs. That is huge!
Doing my series breakdown coming into this series, I said the only thing that would surprise me is Montreal winning this series, and I picked Vegas to win the series in six games. I am not too good to admit when I am wrong! I am not going to flip-flop on my pick and say that Montreal is going to win this series, but I will say that they are playing their style of hockey very well and if that continues, they will win this series. I did not believe that Price would be able to carry this team this far in the playoffs, but boy was I wrong! To this point he is the leader for the Conn Smyth. I am sure Tampa Bay fans would disagree with that claim but Tampa has won games in spite of Vasilevskiy, Montreal cannot. If Montreal wins the Stanley Cup, Price will win the Conn Smyth Trophy. In order for them to close out this series and win the Stanley Cup, they have to continue to start fast, play good team defense, and block shots. Even if all those things happen, the most important thing is that their goal-tending has to be worth the Price of admission!