With no date set for Carey Price’s return to the lineup, the Montreal Canadiens will have to soldier on without the reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy winner. They’ll need better goaltending, and better everything else as well.
One thing we can all agree upon is that without reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price in the net, the Montreal Canadiens have been dismal. What isn’t so clear is how much the absence of Price has to do with that. Basically, are the Canadiens the same team as last year when Price’s otherworldly play masked a host of weaknesses or would the Canadiens be in pretty much the same situation even in Price were playing?
It’s hard to say how many losses Price would have stolen if he had been healthy, but we’ll have to assume that it would be at least a handful. But really, would the Canadiens be in a much better position right now?
Well, we can tell you this much. When Price was healthy, he had a 10-2-0 record with a .934 save percentage and a 2.06 goals-against average. In games in which Price hasn’t played, the trio of Mike Condon, Dustin Tokarski and Ben Scrivens has gone 14-22-4 with an .898 save percentage and 2.66 GAA. On the surface, those numbers look pretty damning to the three guys who have been desperately trying to hold down the fort in Price’s absence.
But when you look a little closer, things aren’t quite so clear. In all 10 of Price’s wins this season, the Canadiens have scored at least three goals in regulation time. They averaged 3.9 goals a game in that span and in his most four recent wins, the Canadiens scored five goals three times and four goals once. You give almost any goaltender in the league that kind of run support and he’s going to deliver victories. In Price’s two losses, the Canadiens scored four times, including one game where they scored three. Overall, in the 12 games in which Price played, the Canadiens averaged 3.58 goals per game.
The Canadiens simply have not been near as good for Condon, Tokarski and Scrivens as they were in front of Price. Without Price in goal, the Canadiens have lost 24 games in regulation or overtime/shootout. They scored three or more times in just four of those games and scored one or fewer in 12 of them. And in those losses, the Canadiens have scored a shocking 1.63 goals per game.
In the 14 games they’ve won without Price, they scored three or more goals in regulation time in 10 of those games and they averaged 3.71 goals per game. Overall, they’ve scored just 2.39 goals per game for Price’s replacements, more than a goal per game fewer than they scored when Price was behind them.
But then you dig a little deeper, which is exactly what THN’s advanced stats expert Dom Luszczyszyn did on the subject. And as it turns out, the Canadiens have been terrible in almost all areas of the game, goaltending included, since Price left the lineup for good in late November. Since that time, the Canadiens have had a dismal shooting percentage of just 5.4 percent in 5-on-5 play and 5.7 percent in all situations. Both of those are last in the league.
And it appears that shooting percentage is so low because the Canadiens are taking shots from the perimeter, which once again goes back to their lack of size and inability to drive the net, Brendan Gallagher excluded. The fact is, the Canadiens have actually made huge improvements as a possession team and are among the best teams in the league in that category, but there’s a huge disconnect between that and their ability to create scoring chances.
The percentage of the Canadiens shot attempts that are actually scoring chances is 44.8 percent, which is also dead last in the league. And the percentage of shots that are scoring chances against is 51.7 percent, which places them 26th. That kind of play simply cannot be sustainable, regardless of how good your goaltending is. There is simply no way the Canadiens can be as bad as they’re playing at the moment. Even the worst teams in the league have a better shooting percentage than that. Suffice to say, though, they’re not near as good as they were early in the season when they were reeling off victories and Dale Weise had eight goals in the first 15 games.
Based on medium- and high-danger scoring chances against, Price’s numbers suggest the Canadiens would have given up 12.5 fewer goals than Condon has to this point. In analytics, six goals is roughly the equivalent to one win, so the Canadiens could have expected to win two more games with Price over Condon. But either Price or Condon would have played the eight games that Tokarski and Scrivens have started and based on analytics, the Canadiens probably could have expected to win one, maybe two, of those games.
So let’s say the Canadiens are three wins better with the Price-Condon tandem in goal. That would give them 58 points for the season, which would put them tied for second in the Atlantic Division with the Detroit with the Red Wings having a game in hand. It would also put them three points clear of the last playoff spot, not the catastrophe in which they currently find themselves, but hardly out of the woods.
So is it goaltending? Sure. But there’s not much the Canadiens can do about that with Price hurt. But they can play better and more assertively in both ends of the ice. Their GM can stop giving the coach a steady stream of bottom-six forwards, players who do almost nothing to improve the offensive woes the team is encountering. And they can play much better in their own end. That comes down to coaching, managing and goaltending and the Canadiens have been sorely lacking in all three areas.