What’s the true cost of missing Carey Price?
The Montreal Canadiens had a historical start that matched and surpassed both NHL and franchise records with nine straight wins in regulation. During this winning streak, they outscored opponents 35-12 including shutout victories over tough teams such as the Blues and Rangers. Carey Price was a huge contributor of this streak as he played 12 games and went 10-2-0 with a .934% save percentage and 2.06 GAA before going down with a lower-body injury.
This brings up the question of how valuable Price is to the Canadiens. Price was in Vezina Trophy form before being injured, and the team was one of the top offenses in the league despite adding very few players in the offseason. When Price briefly came back in late November, he won all three of his games before being placed on injured reserve once again.
When Mike Condon stepped up to fill in for Price, he helped the Canadiens continue their success and collect points without missing a beat. For a moment, it felt like the Canadiens could win without Price and succeed with a backup goaltender. But after performing admirably in October and November going 8-2-3, Condon and the team hit a wall and collapsed in December when they went 3-11-0. During this losing streak, they only scored 24 goals while allowing 42.
(Mike Condon tried his best to replace Carey Price, but that’s a very tall order - Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)
Without Price, the Canadiens’ defense have allowed 2.46 goals per game compared to 2.00 goals per game with him. Price’s GAA is even more impressive given that the Habs were mostly in a shooting deficit when he played; with Price, they allowed 16 more shots on goal than their offense was producing.
When Price isn’t in the game, they have out-shot their opponents by 172 SOGs (in 32 games); if we break that down to Price’s level, that’s about (collectively) 46 more shots than their opponents and 62 more shots than when Price was playing. Ultimately, Price faced way more shots than his replacements and yet allowed less goals per game.
Price’s absence has not only effected the Habs’ defense, but has also effected their offense. In Price’s 12 starts this season, the Habs were scoring 3.58 goals per game. Without Price, the Habs are scoring 2.47 goals per game. You can see how their offense has been inconsistent without him in the following graph:
Clearly, their offense was on the upswing when Price was in net. With the goaltender circus between Condon, Dustin Tokarski, and Ben Scrivens, their offense has dissipated from the top three to ninth place in the league. After the initial euphoria of October, the offense has struggled to pull their weight.
One explanation for this trend is that having Price behind them allows the offense to take more risks. They can make more passes, open up more lanes, and look for the perfect shot in comfort because he can make the saves if a mistake is made. With any other goaltender, more pressure is placed on puck possession and shot totals; the more shots they have against the opponent, the less shots taken on their own net.
They might be in the mindset that the best defense is an unrelenting offense; however, this method has backfired on them and has resulted in scoring less goals. When P.K Subban is only shooting 1.7% of his ice time, they’re obviously playing more conservatively than they’d like. Something that is hardly taken into account is the confidence Carey Price embeds in this team, and without him they’re forced to play in a different way.
(For the Canadiens to get better, they need P.K Subban to step up and start scoring more goals - Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)
Overall, the Montreal Canadiens now hold the worst record in the league since Thanksgiving at 6-14-1 and has earned only 13 points during that span. Price is more than a fantastic goaltender; he is the unlikely offensive motivator. Somehow, the Canadiens can translate low shot attempts into goals when Price is on the ice and can’t when he isn’t. It’s apparent that they can’t play efficiently without him, and getting him back as soon as possible should be the main focus for Montreal. They have now dropped from the top of the Atlantic Division to the Wild Card spot, and they’ll need Price back to become competitive once again.
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