Rabid Habs

Price Check: Carey Price may be Struggling

Habs' Carey Price

It’s weird to even read a title like that. Carey Price may be struggling. The Canadiens have been fortunate to have a healthy Carey Price this season, but a whisper has now turned to a dull roar: Carey Price is having a rough couple weeks.

These tweets followed the Canadiens uninspired 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals. It’s even weird seeing that Price allowed four goals. The unfortunate thing is that it really shouldn’t be that weird, because he’s allowed four goals on seven separate appearances this season. Which is… Weird. In fact, Price has given up three or more goals in five of his last six starts.

First, how is this happening? To try and figure it out, I went back and watched every goal Price has allowed since the start of December in order to find some sort of pattern. Here’s what I’ve found:

Price is struggling with low shots

Since Dec. 1, Carey Price has allowed 32 goals, and has a .905 save percentage. Not only is that not normal for Carey Price, it’s not normal for any starting goaltender in the NHL. Another abnormality in Price’s game may be his recent struggles with the low shot. Of the 32 shots that beat Price, 13 beat him mid-to-low blocker, and the same amount beat him mid-to-low glove. Butterfly goaltenders are built to stop the majority of shots that come in anywhere from their waist to the ice. When they drop low to the ice, butterfly goalies try to use their large pads to take away the bottom half of the net. This challenges shooters to beat goalies up high, which is no easy task in today’s NHL.

Price’s usual dominance of the lower portion of the net is what makes this trend unsettling. I mean, when was the last time you saw Carey Price give up a goal like this one?

His reaction here could indicate a lack of confidence down low. This game against Minnesota was an especially rough one for Price.

Teams are getting Price to move laterally

When you’re watching a game on TV, the color commentator will always mention a way to beat a hot goalie: get the goalie moving laterally. When a goalie gets moving post-to-post, there’s a chance the attacking team can get him off his angle just a bit. Of the 32 goals Price has allowed since the start of December, nine have been one-timers. This means teams are getting Price to move from post-to-post, and he’s either having a hard time getting across to make the save, or the shot is just fired hard enough to beat him. This goal happens to meet both of those qualifications:

Either way, it’s his defense’s responsibility to break up one-time opportunities. Price may steal the occasional one-timer, but relying on him to do so regularly is not an effective strategy (especially on the penalty kill).

Defense having a hard time cleaning up the front of the net

There are a few patterns that led me to this conclusion; the first of which is the defense’s difficulty with screens in front of Carey Price. Since Dec. 1, there are two plays that come to mind that fit this criteria; the first of which being the Habs’ collapse to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Here’s what it looked like just before Ondrej Palat tied the game:

carey-price-tb-screen

I would love to analyze Price’s play on this shot, but first I would need to find him… I think he might be behind six-foot-seven Brian Boyle. You can see Price’s glove on his left pad, which shows me that he can’t see a thing and is relying only on his positioning to make a save. Jeff Petry, paired with Alexei Emelin on the penalty kill while Shea Weber served a penalty, decides to challenge Palat with a shot block. Petry abandons Boyle in front of the net and misses the block before Palat beats Price glove side for the game tying goal.

The next such scenario was the Habs 4-3 overtime defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Once again, the goal that tied the game came on a screened shot.

carey-price-pit-screen

Conor Sheary, nearly a foot smaller than Boyle, manages to sneak in behind three Canadiens, and remains in front of Carey Price until he ultimately scores the game tying goal. A point shot from Justin Shultz hit Max Pacioretty before bouncing off of Sheary’s glove and into the net.

No matter the size of the opponent, Montreal is slowly making a habit of letting Carey Price fend for himself when it comes to screens. Two goals over the course of a month doesn’t seem like much, but there have probably been a high number of shot attempts on a screened Carey Price. Often times the puck doesn’t make it through the screen. If the point shot manages to find a way to the net, the goalie will have to rely on his positioning as his eyes have been taken away entirely.

The second pattern that revealed an issue in front of the net was the amount of rebound goals. Of the 32 goals against since Dec. 1, six have been rebounds (that’s nearly 20%). And those are only the rebounds that Price paid for. While it is Price’s responsibility first to ensure rebounds don’t get into high danger areas, the defense can pitch in a bit and make life easier for their goalie.

Basically, they should strive for less of this:

And this:

All of this sounds pretty bad, but should we be worried? Probably not. This is Carey Price we’re talking about here, and the sample size we’re stressing over is only 13 games. And it’s January. Even if you take the most pessimistic opinion for his play as of late, to say he has no time to turn it around would be wrong.

In fact, he might bet turning it around already. His high-danger save percentage is on its way up for the first time in a while.

carey-price-rolling-average-hdsv

And the same might be true about his overall save percentage, but the jury is still out on that one. It appears to have bottomed out at about .930, and is rebounding.

carey-price-rolling-average-sv

Ok, so how does Price fix all of this? I honestly have no idea. That’s a question for Stephane Waite and the rest of the coaching staff. Goalies are weird, and I have no idea what goes in to training an elite goaltender, and unless you’re a goaltending coach in the NHL, neither do you.

Is it possible he’s hurt? Sure. Max Pacioretty played with a broken foot and we didn’t find out until he was nearly healed. But should a dip in performance automatically be a smoke signal for injury? Of course it’s a possibility, but I’m not going to be the boy who cried injury until we know for sure that Price is dealing with something.

One thing I am sure of is that it’s not time to panic just yet. Let’s check in after the Habs’ bye week (Feb. 13-17). By that point the Habs’ roster will resemble the Canadiens more than the IceCaps, and Price will have had some time to shake off this funk. The Habs still lead the division by ten points, and the team is playing well in spite of several key injuries.

So for now, “Just relax… Just chill out, you know? We got lots of time.”

Follow Ian on Twitter @BoisvertIan