Montreal won another game that it probably should not have last night, beating Dallas 3-2 thanks to 40 saves from Carey Price. The Habs put just 26 shots on net against Kari Lehtonen and took two penalties in the waning minutes of the contest while protecting a one-goal lead.
The Canadiens sit third in the Atlantic Division right now, but with games in hand on Detroit and Tampa, they could seize first in the near future easily. Yet Montreal still has paltry possession numbers, with a Fenwick For percentage in the bottom-10 and an even worse Corsi rating. Which brings up the following question: Does Carey Price deserve some Hart Trophy love this year?
It's rare for a goaltender to win the award, since the Vezina Trophy is seen as the ultimate netminder accolade, but Price has some compelling arguments on his side.
Let's start with the Grade Six speech contest dictionary definition exercise: According to the official NHL guide and record book, the Hart Trophy is awarded to "the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team."
In reality, it's the player most valuable to his team as long as that team is good and since Montreal is a near-lock for the playoffs already, the Habs qualify. But the Canadiens have just one player among the top-60 scorers in the NHL and that's Max Pacioretty, who ranks 34th right now with 38 points in 46 games.
The power play – one of the few aspects of the game Price has no effect on – is bottom-10 in the league, clicking at just 17.1 percent.
If there's anyone standing in the way of Price's Hart candidacy, it's P.K. Subban. The defender is tied for eighth in the league in blueline scoring and plays more than 25 minutes per night while rocking one of the few positive Corsi ratings on the team. Subban also plays some of the toughest minutes on the team, so you can't even say he's being sheltered.
But talk to the Habs and you'll find they too are in awe of Price and the skills he brings to the squad.
“He's prepared every day," said rookie Jiri Sekac. "He's an unbelievable goalie and the way he stays calm is amazing.”
And Price doesn't let up when it's just Habs on the ice. In fact, scoring a goal in practice can be just as difficult.
“You don't get a chance," Sekac said. "It actually feels pretty nice when you score on him, because it doesn't happen very often.”
On most teams, success and a great starting goalie are synonymous and Montreal found that out in the playoffs last season when Price got knocked out of the series against the Rangers. And while the Habs knew the importance of goaltending when they avoided an injured Ben Bishop in their opening sweep against Tampa Bay, it's hard not to look at what Price is doing this season without being impressed.
As for how the Habs are winning despite being out-possessed on most nights, the man himself was chill:
“That's just the way we roll, I guess," Price said. "As long as we're winning games, nitpicking how we do it is pretty irrelevant.”
Until trophy time comes, I would add.