The current Montreal Canadiens are the only team that has achieved success largely as a result of sensational goaltending.
They say goaltending is the great equalizer, and Carey Price has definitely been proving that this season for the Montreal Canadiens. Because, statistically, the NHL’s top team hasn’t looked the part early this year.
As of Thursday night’s 2-1 win over Carolina, the Canadiens have been outshot in 13 of their 21 games played so far this season. They allow the eighth-most shots against per game in the league, at 31.4 and are a below 50 percent possession team.
Yet all of that has been balanced out, and then some, by the spectacular play of Price. It took him 11 games this season to lose, and it has happened just once in regulation. In that time, Price has put up a .945 save percentage and a pair of shutouts.
It’s starting to feel a whole lot like 2014-15, when Price led a Canadiens team that had similar shot suppression issues to finish second in the league. Price won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player, a feat he is on track to repeat this season.
One only needs to look back a year to see the chaos that ensues when Price isn’t in net for the Habs. Price was 10-2-0 last season in between injuries. Without him? The Canadiens were 28-36-6 and ended the season 22nd overall, missing the playoffs by 14 points.
The Habs, however, aren’t alone in this regard. A number of teams over the years have achieved success largely as a result of sensational goaltending. Below is a list of modern era NHL teams who were heavily dependent on goaltending.
1996-1999 Buffalo Sabres
The mid-90s Buffalo Sabres were perhaps the last time a team had a goaltender who was dominant for as long as Carey Price has been. In fact, Price has a lot still to achieve to match the play of Dominik Hasek during his prime years with the Sabres.
In 1996-97, Hasek won his first of back-to-back Hart trophies. He fully deserved the award, as his Sabres team only outshot the opposition 12 times all season. Hasek routinely faced 33 shots per night, while his team only averaged a little over 25. He answered with a .930 save percentage and a 37-20-10 record.
Hasek’s best stretch, however, may have come during the Sabres run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1999. Despite the Sabres once again being consistently outshot in the playoffs, he posted a .939 save percentage and brought his team to within two wins of the Stanley Cup.
2002-03 Anaheim Ducks
Speaking of incredible playoff performances, one has to look no further than Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s run in 2002-03 to see the biggest impact a goalie has had on a playoff team in modern NHL history.
The Ducks weren’t overtly reliant on goaltending during the regular season, but when the calendar flipped to April, Giguere took over. Incredibly, the Ducks only outshot their opponents in two games all playoffs long.
Giguere, however, brought them to within one win of the Stanley Cup by posting a .945 save percentage and five shutouts, only losing six times all playoffs long. For his efforts he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, one of only five players on the losing side of the Cup final to be named playoff MVP. Devils fans booed the announcement at the time, but history proves it correct.
2012-13 Toronto Maple Leafs
It’s quite possible that if the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season lasted the full 82 games, the Maple Leafs never would have gotten to the heights they did. However, over 48 games they were able to turn a wildly unsustainable playing style into a playoff berth.
Oh, and James Reimer putting up a .924 save percentage didn’t hurt either. The Leafs won 21 games that year in which they were outshot by the opposition. They were the league’s worst 5-on-5 Corsi team that season, consistently being out chanced by the opposition.
The numbers finally caught up to them in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs, a series in which they allowed Reimer to be peppered with an average of 39 shots per game. If not for his .923 save percentage, the Leafs probably don’t get anywhere near the infamous Game 7 overtime heartbreak.
2013-14 Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche are another recent example of a team that was able to run away from the numbers for a season. In fact, they were able to ride hot goaltending all the way to a 112 point season, good for third in the league.
In an 82 game season, no team that made the playoffs has won more games in which they were outshot than the Avalanche, who did it 35 times that year. At 32.7, they allowed the highest number of shots against per game for any playoff team that year.
Luckily for them, Semyon Varlamov had a career year, finishing second in Vezina Trophy voting and fourth in Hart Trophy voting with a .927 save percentage. He made at least 100 more saves that season than any other goalie in the league.