Canadiens Revert to Familiar Style to Finish Off Senators

All season long, the story surrounding the Montreal Canadiens was they are a mediocre team, backed by an extraordinary goaltender. Carey Price certainly did not dispel that notion last night, stopping all 43 shots fired his way, leading the Canadiens to the narrowest of victories, but ultimately eliminating the Ottawa Senators.

Seeing how the Senators played with their backs against the wall all year, you knew it was going to take an exceptional effort to finally end their season. Ottawa went 23-4-4 over the final 31 regular season games to make the postseason, and had won back to back games after facing a 3-0 series deficit. Price was up to the task last night, and finally finished off the pesky Sens with a Herculean effort.

The Habs actually stormed out of the gate last night, leading the shot count 6-0 early in the game. Brendan Gallagher opened the scoring for Montreal on a circus-style goal where he was hit by a Greg Pateryn point shot, but then recovered nicely to bat the puck out of the air behind an unsuspecting Craig Anderson.

It was the only time Montreal would beat Anderson all night, but thanks to Price it was enough to advance to round two.

Canadiens Sit On Lead, Lean On Price For Win

It was all Senators after the Gallagher goal, which came with 6:34 to go in the first period. The final 46:34 was played almost entirely in the Canadiens zone, with Ottawa outshooting the Habs 30-7 in the last two periods alone.

(Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)
(Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)

Only once this season did Price face a heavier barrage of shots, when he stopped 44 of 46 shots against the Los Angeles Kings on December 12th. That certainly doesn’t mean the Habs goaltender was not busy this season, as you may have heard the advanced stats crowd claim for that Montreal was on a collision course with disaster thanks to their over-reliance on Price.

They made a strong case.

Price faced the fifth most shots of any goalie in the league this season, facing 29.5 shots per game in his 66 contests. Advanced stats show the Habs to be a bottom ten possession team in the regular season, and their PDO, which supposedly measures luck, was one of the best in the league.

The Canadiens got away from this game plan in Game 5, dominating the Senators throughout the contest, leading the shot clock 46-25, and got destroyed on the score board 5-1. Then came Game 6, when the Canadiens returned to their familiar style of play. The ice was constantly tilted towards Carey Price, yet the Senators couldn’t beat him.

It’s as if the worse they play, the better they are. Or at least, the better Price becomes.

Is a Busy Price a Better Price?

There’s an old belief about goaltenders that staying busy throughout a game helps them stay at their best. Ken Dryden was the king of literally leaning on his stick for long stretches of games while the powerful Canadiens of the 1970’s controlled the play, and then coming up with a huge save when the opponent finally entered the Habs zone.

Dryden it appears, was the exception to the rule, and not part of the norm. Goaltenders often say going several minutes without facing a shot makes it tougher when they finally do have a puck fired their way.

Price certainly didn’t have to worry about getting cold in Game 6, and stopped all 43 shots he faced, while in Game 5 he allowed 5 goals on just 25 shots. It’s as if Price is intentionally mocking the number crunchers who say the Canadiens can’t win this way.

Though it is not a traditional recipe for success, with the way Price has played all season, he makes it difficult to bet against this team. If the past few games taught us anything, it’s not that the Habs have to improve their advanced stats, but they have to keep Price busy for him to be at his best.

It sounds crazy, but the Montreal Canadiens are 54-24-10 in 88 games this season, with Carey Price facing a firing squad in nearly every contest. The questions about the Habs ability to sustain this run are quickly disappearing, as the Canadiens are now just 12 wins away from their 25th Stanley Cup.