The Montreal Canadiens will lose at some point, but that’s hard to fathom with Carey Price in goal. Price hasn’t missed a beat from his outstanding 2014-15 campaign, and with the Canadiens playing better defensively, it seems like Price could have an even better season in 2015-16.
No one thought Carey Price’s Hart and Vezina Trophy-winning campaign was a fluke. Without question, Price is one of the five best goaltenders in the league, and he has been for the past several seasons. But for him to be able to have a repeat performance of 2014-15 seemed unlikely, if only because Price’s numbers were so unbelievable.
It doesn’t appear that way any longer, however. Truthfully, Price, 28, producing another Hart and Vezina-worthy campaign appears closer to inevitable after his white-hot start. It’s still early, which can skew the numbers, but already Price is looking like he could really, truly better his incredibly impressive .933 save percentage and 1.96 goals-against average from last season. Through six starts this season, Price has two shutouts. In 66 outings in 2014-15, he had nine. And it’s not as if he’s blanking inept offenses, either.
This season, Price has shut out the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues, teams which rank third and 10th respectively in goals for through Tuesday night’s action. He has also earned victories over the Detroit Red Wings and weapon-heavy Pittsburgh Penguins. In his six games of action, Price has faced 176 shots. Only six have gotten by him. His .966 SP and 1.00 GAA are top marks among all goaltenders, and the very best of any netminder who has suited up for at least four contests this season.
But there’s something else helping Price and that’s the play of the team around him. In 2014-15, it was Price’s stellar play that almost single-handedly helped the Canadiens to an Atlantic Division title. This season, though, the whole team seems to be moving in the right direction, and that only stands to make Price better.
“This is the best team we’ve played against,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after Tuesday’s shutout loss to the Canadiens, via NHL.com’s Arpon Basu. “This is the best checking team we’ve played against. They used their fourth line, who is an experienced group of players, to check our top players, and they did a hell of a job. This is a well-coached, disciplined, play-the-game-the-right-way team. They’re going to be a bear all year for everybody.”
And everything points to Hitchcock hitting the nail right on the head. While it’s a small sample size and too early to know exactly how good Montreal is at 5-on-5, the Habs’ 52.8 percent shot attempts percentage is the seventh-best in the NHL right now. Per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 action, the Canadiens are only allowing 28.6 shots against through six games. Those totals are significantly better than how Montreal performed in 2014-15.
The moves at last season’s trade deadline to acquire Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchell and Jeff Petry have paid off early this season. Same goes for quieter off-season moves, such as picking up Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann for a combined $1.85 million.
Again, however, it’s only been seven games and a lot can change over the course of the remaining 75 contests. The Canadiens could again dip into bad habits, their shot attempts percentage could drop and they could spring defensive leaks which lead to Price being tested more often. But what makes Montreal so scary — a bear, as Hitchcock called them — is that Price is still Price, and right now that means he’s the best goaltender walking the earth.
With Price, it feels that no matter how much the Canadiens slip, they’re still going to be a strong contender for the Stanley Cup. That’s not a proclamation made because of a six-game sample, either. It’s one made because over Price’s last 72 starts in the NHL, he has been hands-down the best netminder in the league and one capable of winning on any given night no matter what the task at hand is. Facing 20, 30 or 40 shots this season, Price is showing the same standing-on-his-head ability that made him the clear cut MVP in 2014-15.
That Price has kept up this outstanding level of play is remarkable. That he continues to do so while the Canadiens appear to have improved on ice is downright frightening for other clubs. And the thing is, regardless of how Montreal fares from here on out, it looks as if should getting to the post-season fall on Price’s shoulders, he’ll be able to get the Canadiens there with relative ease. And once Price’s Habs get into the post-season, he could very well be stealing them some big, shiny hardware at the end of the year.