If the answer is motivation to show that, from a personal standpoint, this has been an anomaly from start to finish, then that could end up being the one positive Price gets for deciding it was important to retake the starter’s net in meaningless games for the team following the concussion that kept him out of action from Feb.20 to Mar.20. He’s likely to have to wait until next fall to reap the benefits because the disaster that started in October for Montreal’s $84 million man has endured up until this point—and there’s little hope it’ll turn out any different from here to April 7, when the Canadiens’ season comes to its merciful end.
On Saturday, in front of a capacity crowd at the Bell Centre, Price made some spectacular glove saves, he fought off screens to get his pads on pucks, and he brought everyone to their feet on a couple of occasions. But he also allowed four goals on 14 shots and was in for a couple of others the Washington Capitals scored in a 6-4 win over the Canadiens.
Price wasn’t letting himself off the hook after the game.
“Obviously giving up a six-spot isn’t that much fun,” he said. “You like to play your best and when you don’t it’s frustrating, but you have to shake it off and keep going.”
Unfortunately for Price, there have been many more frustrating nights to shake off than rewarding ones to savour.
Saturday’s game was the 17th time this season he had allowed four or more goals, bringing his save percentage to a career-low .901 and his goals-against average to a career-high 3.10. Those numbers are entirely unbecoming of the guy who built up a reputation as the consensus best goaltender in the world. The guy who took home the Hart, Vezina and Jennings Trophies and was named the players’ MVP as the Ted Lindsay Award recipient just three summers ago. The guy who backstopped Canada to Olympic Gold at the 2014 Sochi Games and took them to a World Cup win in the fall of 2016.
The hope has to be that Price is back to being that guy when the puck drops on the 2018-19 season, when his new eight-year, record-breaking deal kicks in. The fact is that even if he was on that level to start this season, it wouldn’t have made that much of a difference for this edition of the Canadiens – who suffered their 49th loss on Saturday.
On 19 occasions, Price has allowed two goals or less, but the Canadiens only have a 12-6-1 record under the circumstances this year. In 26 games where Price has allowed more than two, the Canadiens have bailed him out a grand total of three times.
That has a lot to do with an offence that has scored the 28th-most goals in the 31-team NHL. But it has much more to do with a defence that started off as one of the worst groups in the NHL and has been reduced to downright embarrassing in Shea Weber and Victor Mete’s absence.
On Saturday, the Canadiens allowed 30 shots. The amount of them that were unimpeded—both in the slot and in the crease—also hit double digits.
“It’s one of the biggest areas of the game that we’re suffering the most damage,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. “We have a bunch of new defencemen—Mike Reilly, Brett Lernout, etc., Even up front we’re working with Nikita Scherbak, who has some defensive issues, and Alex Galchenyuk was the same thing tonight.”
Tom Wilson scored on a one-timer from the slot for his 12th goal of the season. Wilson’s Capitals teammates Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jay Beagle had tap-ins from the crease. There wasn’t anything for Price to do on those ones.
But his giveaway, which led to Wilson’s second goal, put him out of position. He also froze up on Kuznetsov’s first of the night, a power-play marker that beat him on the short side and over the same glove that made great saves on Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana earlier.
Not good enough. Not for Price, who is expected to be perfect at all times.
And Saturday’s performance was really just microcosm of Price’s season; good and bad mixed all together, with a loss as the final result.
“Not too worried about being to statistically-minded,” he said. “Just worry about the next shot and try to have fun out there.”
We doubt Price has had very much fun at all this season, and who knows what he will get out of that process over the final six games? Other than more motivation to prove this is a one-off next season, we can’t think of anything.
“We know how good he is and we know how good he will be and, again, I’m not worried about him bouncing back,” said Claude Julien. “It wasn’t his best night tonight. Knowing Carey, he probably mentioned it. But, at the same time, I think a lot of our season has gone that way.”
It can’t end soon enough.