Does Carey Price or Jake Allen give Canadiens best chance of success?

Following the Calgary Flames win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Hockey Central panel discusses why the Flames' secondary scoring was so instrumental in the victory.

It will be at least another couple of games before we see Carey Price in the Montreal Canadiens net and depending on how Jake Allen fares in his absence, maybe it will be longer.

Objectively, Allen has been the better goalie this season. Despite getting stuck with the loss Friday night against Calgary, Allen played well. However, Price is the face of the franchise and a former league MVP. He’s earned a longer leash than most goalies. Price also turned it on when it mattered most last season — in the playoffs. As the regular season winds down, the Canadiens are going to have to choose as to who their go-to guy will be down-the-stretch and into the post-season — assuming they qualify. Some might think Price is a slam dunk choice but should he be? Before you make up your mind one way or the other let’s consider the facts.

As mentioned, Allen has had the better season to date. Let’s start with the traditional stats. Both goalies have similar goals-against averages with Price at 2.64 and Allen slightly better at 2.57. However, goals-against average is a team stat and a less than an ideal measure of goaltending performance. Save percentage is better though far from perfect. Allen ranks 19th among 51 goalies with at least 15 games played at .912. Price ranks 41st a .901.

Neither goals-against average nor save percentage accounts for shot quality and while you might think that two goalies who play behind the same group of skaters would face the same quality of shots, that isn’t always the case and hasn’t been the case in Montreal this season. The Canadiens defence has been much better in front of Price compared to Allen.

In games with Carey Price in net, the Canadiens expected goals-against average (reflection of shot quality and quantity) is 2.30. That is the 9th lowest expected GAA among 51 qualified goalies. Montreal’s expected GAA in Allen’s games is over one-third of a goal per game higher at 2.67 which ranks 31st lowest in the NHL. The fact that Allen still has a better GAA and save percentage than Price despite essentially starting every game a third of a goal behind further underscores that he has been the better of the two goalies this season.

Price faces an average of 12 shots against from the slot per game which is the 10th fewest of any goalie. The 5.4 high-danger shots he faced per game from the inner slot is the 6th fewest.

Allen faced an average of two more slot shots per game and nearly three more from the inner slot. Friday night’s game against the Flames was a good example as Allen faced a whopping 18 shots from the slot.

Only three goalies face more of these high-danger shots from the inner slot than Allen per game.

All things being equal, the difference between the two comes out to close to half a goal per game less when Allen is in the net. So, based on what we’ve seen this season from a numbers standpoint, it looks like a pretty clear case for Allen to be given the net down the stretch. However, another consideration needs to be taken into account as well. Which goalie gives the Canadiens the best chance to win in the playoffs? That’s where the ‘peak Price’ argument comes in.

Carey Price at this best, even if that isn’t what it once was, is still better than most goalies in the league. We don’t see it as often as we used to but when Price is on his game he can out-duel just about anyone staring at him from the other end of the ice. Let’s go back to last season for a minute. Price and the Canadiens limped into the playoffs finishing with 71 points in 71 games.

Montreal lost its final three regular-season games and Price had a save percentage north of .900 just once in his last five games. Not exactly confidence-inspiring heading into a playoff series against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Well, the Canadiens won that best-of-five qualifying round series in four games and Price was terrific. Price posted a save percentage of at least .900 in his first eight playoff games before the Canadiens were eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in six games.

After starting 58 games for the Canadiens, a well-rested Price played at the level Canadiens fans grew accustomed to seeing from him for much of his career. The hope was that in acquiring Allen in the off-season and lightening Price’s workload, his performance would mirror that level more often this season. That’s hasn’t been the case however, there was a stretch from early to mid-March where Price played his best hockey of the season.

In six starts from March 1st – March 15th, Price went 4-1-1 with a .950 save percentage. That’s ‘peak Price.’ In the six games since, not including Monday’s game in which he left with an injury after the 1st period, Price has an .859 save percentage.

Carey Price has shown glimpses of elite play over the past few seasons but inconsistency has led to below-average overall results. That argument for Price would be that for the Montreal Canadiens to have a chance at knocking off teams like Toronto or Winnipeg in the first round of the playoffs, they would need Price at his best to do so. Jake Allen likely won’t lose you a playoff series but can he be good enough to win it for you, if necessary? Perhaps. Carey Price at his best certainly could.

If Allen plays well in however many games he’s given as we wrap up the regular season, at the very least it will allow Price to be as rested as the team feels he needs to be. Playoff Price from last season would certainly make a series against the Maple Leafs or Jets interesting. That said, given how well Allen has played this season, there is ample evidence to suggest the Canadiens should not wait long before handing him the net if Price can’t recapture what we saw from him in the playoffs last year.

A Toronto versus Montreal playoff series is a very real possibility in the first round. Allen or Price? Campbell or Andersen? The goaltending storylines would be fascinating.

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