Remember the days when goaltending was winning Stanley Cups in Montreal? Back when Jacques Plante was the back bone of the team in the 60’s? Or when Ken Dryden, although playing behind a pretty darn good defense, was stellar and could be counted on as a key player in the 70’s? Perhaps you haven’t had the fortune to watch those guys, but you were born to see Patrick Roy work miracles in the late 80’s and early 90’s? No? Then you had to be alive when Carey Price earned just about every hardware available in the NHL back in 2015, right?
Truth be told, goaltending is a key position and has been on this team for as long as its glorious history goes back. Team General Manager Marc Bergevin knew that he had a special player in his hands in Price and he didn’t hesitate to make him the richest goaltender of all-time with an shiny eight-year, $84 million contact which kicks in this season. Unfortunately for Bergevin, his star goaltender is losing his mojo and when you invest so much into one player, you are fully entitled to expect him to be the best player on your team. No ifs and buts about it.
After signing that lucrative contract over a year ago, Price was not only below average last season, he was amongst the worst starting goaltenders in the entire NHL statistically speaking. A lot was explained due to an under-performing group, particularly the defensive corp in front of him but to Price’s own admission, he can do much better.
After the season, Bergevin spoke about the “attitude” in the dressing room having to change. His comment wasn’t clear back then but it certainly got clearer during the summer months when he traded Alex Galchenyuk, a talented goals’ scorer also known for taking shifts and nights off. And it then became crystal clear when rumours got rampant about captain Max Pacioretty being on the block, leading to his departure for Las Vegas a few weeks ago. Anyone will tell you that Pacioretty looked disinterested last season, and he gave up on his team, at least effort-wise. Connor McDavid was playing on a bad team and he never took a shift off. That’s the attitude Bergevin was referring to.
We folks, Price also gave up on his team. Like Pacioretty, his body language and effort-level clearly showed his disinterest. His second and third effort that we were accustomed to seeing since the arrival of goaltending coach Stéphane Waite, they were gone and were replaced by the old habits of ‘going through the motions’.
Hybrid vs Butterfly
I’ve been following the career of Carey Price since the Canadiens drafted him back in 2005 and I was fortunate to live in Western Canada, home of the WHL and the Tri-City Americans, where Price played his junior years. I’ve loved and supported the guy since then and I became rather angry at Roland Melanson who tried changing Price’s style to a pure butterfly, almost ruining him in my opinion. You see, back in junior, Price was mix between what we call the hybrid style (Martin Brodeur) and the butterfly style (Patrick Roy) and Melanson only knew the later, so he started messing up with Price’s natural style, what made him the goalie that he was. This lead to Price’s struggles in the early going of his career. The truth is to be successful in the NHL, you have to make slight adjustments to a goalie’s style, not start from scratch. As soon as you start thinking too much instead of relying on instincts, the puck is behind you as a goalie.
Bergevin hired someone in Waite who can work with many styles, someone who will teach mental preparation, raise the ‘compete level’ and fix minor bad habits. While the NHL thought they had found ‘the book’ on Price by scoring high, glove side, Waite also fixed that at the time. Under Waite, Price returned to being his old self, a mix of hybrid and butterfly. He stood on shots coming from far with no traffic in front. He went to a butterfly when there was traffic in front to cover most of the net. He was fighting for every puck. He was getting in his opponents’ head.
Last year though, for whatever reason, we noticed Price reverting to his Melanson style. Beat up glove side more often than not, compete level non-existant (for the most part), a real change in attitude and it lead to the dismal season we saw from him. It’s like he stopped listening to Waite, or he didn’t care anymore. I would be willing to bet that he was one of the athletes on the team Bergevin was pointing the finger to with the ‘attitude’ comment and that the goalie and the GM had a heart-to-heart before summer. The Canadiens invested too much money in him for Price to drop the ball on them like that and it was made clear.
Unfortunately for the team and for the fans, I’m noticing the same style in this pre-season and that folks, doesn’t look good. It’s a bad vibe. He is on his knees on every shot again, no matter where it comes from. He’s getting beat high, glove side too often. His lateral movement is slow and his compete level… well… non-existant. True that he doesn’t have Calgary’s defense ahead of him, or Nashville’s, or San Jose’s, but he’s certainly supposed to be superior to Mike Smith, Pekka Rinne and Martin Jones too. And he’s getting paid accordingly!
Price has been vastly outplayed by Antti Niemi so far, and seems to be battling more to the level of Charlie Lindgren for the backup spot. I’m talking performances here folks. There’s no way Price isn’t the starter in Montreal. He is very much capable to returning to form. But he’s certainly raising red flags for yours truly. The team in front of him is hard working team and they need their best player to join the ranks because right now, we’re far from Plante, Dryden or Roy’s calibre of play. Go Habs Go!