Canadiens’ Price Still Has Room to Improve Early in 2020-21

Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price is expected to start his fourth game of the season this Saturday evening against the Vancouver Canucks. It will be Price’s second start against the Canucks in four days, as he was on the losing end of a 6-5 Vancouver shootout win on Wednesday night. In his previous three starts, Price has a record of 1-0-2, also losing in overtime to the Maple Leafs on opening night. His current statistical numbers show that he has a 3.50 GAA (goals against average) and a .887 SV% (save percentage).

These numbers suggest Price still has room to improve in the early going of the 2020-21 season. To be very clear, there should be no panic at this point as the team is winning games in fairly convincing fashion. However, in the Habs’ two losses, Price was only mediocre by his own standards. On opening night, the Canadiens led the Maple Leafs on three separate occasions, including a 3-1 lead in the second period, yet they were unable to extract two points from their rivals.

Missing the Big Save

Some have argued, and to some extent, I agree, that the penalty kill versus the Maple Leafs cost the Canadiens the game, but Price was unable to come up with the big saves in key moments, allowing two goals in less than two minutes to end the second period. The Canadiens and Price relinquished their lead.

The story was the same in the shootout loss to Canucks on Wednesday night, although in that instance, the Habs were primarily playing catch up for large portions of the game. Once again, the penalty kill faltered by allowing three goals on six opportunities. Still, what is that old saying, the goaltender must be the best penalty killer?

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Carey Price still has room to improve in the early going of 2020-21. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On Bo Horvat’s first power play goal against Price, a one-timer from high in the slot, Price was down a little early and was slightly sliding in the opposite direction of the puck. As a result, the puck every so gently slips between Price’s arm and body and into the net. It is true that you can’t always save them all, but when Price is at his best, he reads the play a little quicker than he did on that goal.

The second goal he gave up in the first game against the Canucks was perhaps more concerning. Tyler Motte sped down the wing on an odd-man rush, a two on one, to be precise. Canadiens’ defenceman Joel Edmundson was back and did a good job of taking away any sort of pass. Still, Motte walked in and slipped a quick shot right along the ice between Price’s legs. Again, in my opinion, Price seemed a little slow to react to what I believe was a save he would have made at his best.

Price finished the back and forth affair of a game by allowing five goals on 28 shots in regulation and overtime and by making two saves on four shootout opportunities.

The Good News for the Canadiens

For one, the team as a whole has shown maturity on this road trip and has won three games in very convincing fashion. Unlike in the past, the team is scoring at high frequency, which should relieve some pressure on Price and allow for him to solidify any issues in his game. Secondly, Jake Allen has, in fact, proven to be a solid partner, starting in two of the Canadiens’ three wins. If Price struggles at any point, the team will be in better shape.

Elias Pettersson, Carey Price,
Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson moves in on Montreal Canadiens Carey Price (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

It’s worth noting, though, that Price did play very well in his one win against the Edmonton Oilers. He made many five star saves on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and showed calm while the Canadiens struggled through discipline problems. The Canadiens won the game by a score of 5-1, but the outcome could have been very different if not for Price.

Finally, Price will have the opportunity in his second appearance against the Canucks to make a statement that some of his early-season struggles are just a sign of him shaking off the cobwebs of a shortened training camp. If Price succeeds in playing to his abilities, there is little doubt the Canadiens will finish their road trip with 10 points in the bag.

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