Habs’ Success Comes At A Price

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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.

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Bergevin has invested a lot of money on Carey Price

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.

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Price needs to refocus and listen to Waite

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!

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Calling a Spade a Spade: Carey On!

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Stating that the Montreal Canadiens are up to a slow start of the 2017-2018 season would be like saying that Christmas will fall on December 25th this year… with the exception that everyone expected the winter holiday to fall on that date. While most hockey fans and media members will recognize that this team is better than what it has shown so far, a record of 3-7-1 after 11 games heading into tonight’s game against the Ottawa Senators places them dead last in the Eastern Conference and this isn’t helping to keep the naysayers in the Habs’ fan base quiet.

There are several issues factoring into the Canadiens’ lack-lustered start to the season, none other more blatant than the team’s inability to put the puck in the opposing net. That is something that everyone around the NHL, fans included, expected team GM Marc Bergevin to address in the off-season. He did make a big move in hope to address that issue when he traded for Jonathan Drouin, but the loss of fellow Russian countrymen Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov and their contribution has left it’s mark on the offensive side of the ice.

What is surprising however is seeing how many goals the Canadiens are allowing every game, considering that they count, in their line-up, on the best goaltender in the World in Carey Price. The Habs have already allowed 19 more goals to the opposition than they have scored, and they can thank the Arizona Coyotes for allowing them not to be the worst in the NHL in that department. In fact, the team is third worse in the league by allowing a whooping 3.82 goals per game while sitting dead last in the NHL, scoring only two goals per game. Do the math and you have the results we’re seeing right now.

Carey On

It would be very unfair to pin point the goals against solely on goaltending, although it would also be irresponsible to ignore that it has been a contributing factor. Every single team in the NHL pays their franchise players top dollars and they should be expecting them to perform as such and in Price’s case, he’s simply not so far this season. In his first ten games, heading into tonight, Price’s goals’ against average sits at an uncharacteristic 3.64 and his saves percentage (.883) is well below what would be considered NHL respectability level.

As the team’s back bone, Price must find a way to up his game, to find his “Mojo”, to borrow a term from the infamous Austin Powers. And with the help of Stephane Waite, there should be no doubt that he will. Let’s just hope that he does before it becomes impossible for the team to climb back to playoffs’ contention.

Calling out the idiots

Canadiens’ fans and some media personalities covering the team are experts at proclaiming themselves as the most knowledgeable in the NHL yet, some of them are also experts at proving otherwise with their words and actions. We are seeing plenty of examples of that by reading The Montreal Gazette and reading comments on Twitter, which we can always avoid reading. But it’s when that behaviour is displayed for the world to see, on national TV, that it becomes shameful. Encouraged by the so-called media personalities or showbiz sports writers wannabes, those idiot fans start booing the back bone of their so-called favourite team, making the majority of this loyal fan base want to crawl into a hole in shame.

So to those who were at that game, in the stands, acting like idiots… Shame on you! Go find another team to “cheer” for! You don’t deserve to be called Habs’ fans as you are a real shame to those who know and understand the game. You put a black mark on this glorious fan base by acting like 3 year-olds having a temper tantrum in a public place for not getting their toy! This is totally unacceptable and I wish that those who heard them do that, standing or sitting beside them, would speak up and ridicule them for what they are: plain idiots! Fans can be frustrated and if they want to boo the team, fine, it’s their right. But booing an individual player, whoever he is, particularly the best player on their supposedly favourite team… it’s idiotic! Period. To borrow a very classy man’s own quote, back when similar idiots were booing Patrice Brisebois every time he touched the puck:

“We don’t need those people, we don’t want those people, they’re jealous people, yellow people. I think they’re a bunch of gutless bastards, to be honest. … Our message to them is to stay away, we don’t need you.” ~ Bob Gainey

If you know anything about Gainey the player, the man, you will realize and understand the weight and importance of those words. But something tells me that those idiots can’t recognize their face from their backends, so expecting them to respect our franchise’s legends is way too much to ask.

Worse, it’s not the first time that Price has to go through such humiliation from those who are supposedly “supporting and cheering” for this team. In a Patrick Roy moment, we clearly remember Price raising his arms in the air in yet, another shameful time.

And we know what happened to St. Patrick, who asked for a trade and ended up giving the Colorado Avalanche their two Stanley Cups. Some self-proclaimed “most knowledgeable fans” seem to be suffering from severe memory loss… or lack of grey matter.

To those who follow this blog regularly, you will know that I call a spade a spade and that I’m not writing as a popularity contest, that I will call out those who I feel are out of line. I do recognize that I am out of line by the way I am calling out the boo birds and to you, readers, I apologize for this uncharacteristic outburst. But I am not willing to remove, edit or abstain myself from putting it down for all to read, at least not this one time. As Gainey has done in the media back then, it needs to be said, it needs to be heard, and it needs to be nipped in the bud not just by me, but by every other Habs’ fan feeling ashamed by the behaviour of a few rotten apples.

With all of that being said, most Montreal Canadiens’ fans are classy, knowledgeable individuals who can criticize what they don’t like and see the positive in things just as well. They understand that while they are passionate, they don’t get personal in their attacks towards the team, the administrators or the players. For that, I am grateful to be part of this fan base and all together we can chant our “GO HABS GO!“.