On paper, it’s a game the Montreal Canadiens had no right winning. At full strength, they were out-attempted by 21, outshot by 19, out-chanced by six and allowed the arch-rival Boston Bruins four more high-danger scoring chances. The final shot count read 43-22 in favor of Boston. But on a night the Bruins donned their Winter Classic throwbacks, it was Carey Price who turned back the clock to his Hart and Vezina Trophy-winning season and pitched a game-stealing performance that set the stage for Canadiens blueliner Jeff Petry to net the overtime winner.
No doubt, Monday night was one of Price’s more remarkable of the season. Tested time and again, including an early 2-on-0 break and mid-game 2-on-1 rush that he turned aside with almost head-shaking ease, Price was the hero regardless of who potted the game-winning goal. He was calm, cool, collected. He looked like the Price we had grown accustomed to seeing, the one who had seemingly gone missing through the 2017-18 campaign and into the first two months of this season. And the good news for Montreal is it doesn’t appear as if these performances are any kind of one-off.
Indeed, Price struggled through last season and into the early part of this year. He posted a career-worst .900 save percentage and 3.11 goals-against average across 49 appearances last season, and through the first two months of the 2018-19 season, it looked as though Price was in for more of the same. In fact, by the end of November, Price’s numbers were among the ugliest of his career. His .897 SP and 3.11 GAA were among the worst marks in the NHL. But over the past two months, Price has rounded into form.
Just a cursory look through his numbers would tell us as much. Seven of his best games of the season, based purely on his in-game SP totals, have come in the past two months. Four of his most outstanding games, nights in which he’s made 30-plus stops and picked up a victory, have also fallen into the past six weeks. And, anecdotally speaking, he’s seemed to shake whatever had plagued him in the early going. The hard numbers back it up, too.
Since Dec. 1, Price has pieced together an 11-6-0 record on the strength of his apparent return to his all-world form. He’s turned in an excellent .928 SP over his past 18 outings, his GAA has dipped by almost a full goal to 2.16 and when measured against contemporaries who have played at least 10 games since the beginning of December, Price ranks third in both categories. At 5-on-5, the numbers speak volumes, too. Prior to the December, Price’s .912 SP at full strength ranked 30th among the 41 goaltenders to have played at least 10 games. Across the past month and a half, however, Price’s .938 SP at 5-on-5 ranks third among the 36 goaltenders with 10 or more appearances. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s tied for the league lead in shutouts over that span, either, as he posted his second and third sheets of the season in the past two weeks.
To be sure, credit should be given to the team in front of Price. The Canadiens have been a prototypical Claude Julien club throughout the campaign, dominant in the puck possession game and tight-checking against even the toughest opponents. Montreal’s Corsi percentage is among the league’s five best at 54.1 percent, and the Canadiens rank fifth in shots percentage (53.1), scoring chance percentage (53.4) and 15th in high-danger chance percentage (51.2) at five-a-side. But the return of Shea Weber to the lineup — which perfectly coincides with Price’s upswing — has been especially beneficial in Montreal.
Since Weber’s Nov. 27 return, almost every single one of the Canadiens’ underlying numbers reflect a positive change. To wit, a rise in attempts for and drop in attempts against has seen Corsi percentage increase by 2.6 percent over the past six weeks. Similar changes in shot totals has seen Montreal boast a 54.3 shots percentage since Weber’s got back into the lineup. Likewise, scoring chance percentage has risen by nearly two percent. The only decrease has been in high-danger chances, though that’s entirely due to the Canadiens generating fewer rather than the result of Montreal allowing more against. The changes are reflected in Price’s workload, too, as he’s averaged roughly 1.1 fewer shots against per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play since Weber’s return. It’s minimal, sure, but it’s not nothing.
All of this is to say that it’s sure starting to look like Carey Price is Carey Price again, and the Canadiens are benefitting in a big way. While Montreal was undoubtedly in the mix in the Eastern Conference wild-card prior to Price’s seeming in-season turnaround — thanks in large part to the play of off-season acquisitions Max Domi and Tomas Tatar, as well as consistent output from Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault — they’ve been among the conference’s best across the past six weeks. Their 28 points since Dec. 1 rank third in the East, and the Canadiens’ 14-8-0 record over their past 22 games gives them the conference’s fifth-best points percentage.
If this continues, though, Montreal isn’t just a threat in the wild card but a threat to whoever they happen to draw come the first round of the post-season. A white-hot goaltender can steal a series. We’ve seen it time and again. And as the Canadiens march their way through the back half of the schedule, Price is beginning to look like a goaltender who might have a potential series-stealing performance in him.
If you don’t believe it, just ask the Bruins.