No Price? No problem.
For the foreseeable future, the Montreal Canadiens will be without last year’s Hart Trophy and Vezina Trophy winner.
And they will be just fine.
On November 30th, in a highly anticipated game against the New York Rangers, Carey Price aggravated a lower body injury that had been ailing him for weeks. Fortunately for Montreal, the injury will not require surgery. However, it will cause him to miss at least the next five weeks.
If everything goes right and Price comes back by the beginning of January, the Canadiens will have to last 16 straight games (approximately 20% of the season) without the services of the league’s top goaltender.
If this injury had occurred last year, Montreal would have been in deep trouble.
During Price’s Hart-winning 2014-‘15 season, he was absolutely vital to Montreal’s success. The Habs went 44-16-6 in Price’s 66 games played last season, while going a mediocre 6-6-4 with backup netminder Dustin Tokarski in goal. With Tokarski’s lackluster career numbers (2.85 goals against average, .906 save percentage) a long-term injury to Price would have been devastating.
This year, however, Montreal’s backup goalie situation is much more stable. Backup rookie Mike Condon has been nothing short of sensational filling in for Price this year.
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Condon has started 16 games this season, already matching Tokarski’s total from last year. In these 16 games, Condon has gone 9-4-3 with a goals against average of 2.22 and a save percentage of .913, major improvements from Tokarski’s mediocre statistics last season.
Aside from one blowout loss against Colorado, Condon has never lost by more than one goal. He has done a great job of keeping Montreal in every game, which is all you can ask from your backup goaltender. Additionally, Condon has made some highlight reel saves, including these gems.
Both of these incredible saves occurred in the middle of the third period in tie games. Even though Montreal ended up losing both of these games, Condon did all he could to keep them in the game.
Another reason why Montreal does not need to rely on Price this year is their much improved possession game.
Last season, the Canadiens’ CF% was 23rd in the league at 48.5%, and their FF% was 21st in the league at 48.9%. They gave up many more scoring opportunities than they generated on offense, often relying on Price to bail them out. Indeed, their success largely stemmed from a save percentage of 93.68%, top of the league.
This year, however, Montreal has improved their possession game immensely. Their CF% is sixth in the league at 52.5%, and their FF% is fifth in the league at 52.4%. Only twice in their last 16 games has their opponent produced more shots on net than them, demonstrating that they don’t need to rely on goaltending nearly as much as they used to.
Indeed, the Canadiens’ offense has been dynamic this year. Their 3.3 goals per game is good for second in the NHL, a significant step up from last season’s 2.61 goals per game, which was only 20th in the league. Part of the reason for this offensive resurgence is their improved power play. They are currently fifth in the league on the man advantage, scoring at a 22.2% clip. Last year, they were 25th in the league, scoring on only 16.0% of opportunities.
Their offensive attack is also extremely well-balanced. Captain Max Pacioretty leads the way with 13 goals and 25 overall points. However, he is just one of four players with at least 20 points and one of an impressive 12 players with at least ten points.
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Montreal’s time without Price will by no means be a walk in the park. After last night’s loss against the lowly Hurricanes, their remaining December schedule is brutal. They play 11 more games, all against teams over .500.
Even if this schedule does create some trouble, the Canadiens have built up such a cushion with their dominant early play that they can survive a brief bump in the road. With their improved backup goaltending, strong possession numbers, and balanced scoring depth, Habs fan should not worry.
They have more than enough talent to survive the loss of arguably the league’s best player.
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