Those inane Google questions that pop up whenever you try to search something are, if nothing else, sometimes a key to what people are thinking.
When I checked Carey Price’s stats Friday, I found two beauties:
- Is Carey Price the greatest goalie in the history of hockey?
- Is Carey Price still good?
Mind you, I also found a question that asked, “who does Carey Price play for?” which might rule out any great hockey knowledge on the part of the people asking the questions.
But those two questions – one wanting to know whether Price is the greatest ever, the other asking if he is still good – pretty well define the parameters of the perpetual Price debate.
First, he is not and never has been a candidate for the title “greatest goalie ever.”
Second, he is still good.
But there is a third, looming question: “Is Carey Price still good enough to do what he has never done before and lead the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup?”
Based on Price’s performance during the pandemic playoff last summer, the answer is yes.
Based on his performance during the last, shortened regular season and the beginning of this one, the answer is a firm, “gosh, I dunno…
Before the quarantine last season, Price had a 2.79 goals-against and a .909 save percentage. Through seven starts in this young season, he’s slightly worse – 2.81 goals against, .899 save percentage. All those numbers, however, are significantly worse than his career marks, a 2.50 goals-against and a .917 save percentage.
Still, he’s better than his injury-marred 2017-2018 season when he sported a cringe-worthy 3.11 goals against and a .900 save percentage – but well short of the Carey Price who reigned as the league’s best goaltender from 2013 to 2017.
If it were only the seven starts he’s had so far, Price’s performance wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. But Price is coming off a substandard regular season and he is missing the two standard excuses that his fans trot out when he struggles: that he is overworked (which was true) and that he was playing behind a sub-par defence (never as true as fans made it out to be.)
This year, there is no question that Price is playing behind the best and deepest defence he’s seen, going back to his debut in 2007. There’s no erratic P.K. Subban out there, no slow-footed Karl Alzner, no Douglas “Crankcase” Murray, who hit like a bulldozer and skated like one too.
Before Thursday night’s debacle against Ottawa, Price had played only six of 10 games – 60 percent, almost exactly where the Canadiens would want him so that he could be rested and ready for the playoffs. With the able Jake Allen carrying much of the load, Price should be at his best every night.
Obviously, the sample size for this season is small. Price began by giving up five goals in an overtime loss to the Leafs but then held the high-octane Connor McDavid Oilers to a single goal in his second start.
After Jake Allen also held the Oilers to one goal, Price gave up five more in another barn-burner, a 6-5 shootout loss to the Canucks. After Allen beat Vancouver, Price won the last of the three-game set, 5-2, then beat the Flames 4-2 in the home opener at the Phone Booth.
Price also got the start in the first of two at home against Vancouver, then after Allen beat the Canucks again, Price gave up three against Ottawa and the Canadiens lost a game in which they outshot the opposition, 38-22.
Bottom line? Former Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray recovered after some horrendous early season struggles to frustrate the Canadiens while Price was not quite good enough.
Fans being fans, they like to dream up relatively insignificant trades: Phil Danault to Calgary for Sam Bennett and a first-round pick. That’s not where this season will rise or fall. We know this team can score goals – they haven’t been this dangerous since Pierre Turgeon was traded to appease Mario Tremblay.
The season is going to come down to goaltending. Price, who is only in the third season of that monster eight-year contract he signed for a cool $84 million US (with an annual value and cap hit of $10.5 million) is meant to be the man. Maybe he still is.
Price is 33 now but that shouldn’t be a factor. Patrick Roy was 37 when he put up a 35-win season with a .920 save percentage and a 2.18 goals-against for the Avalanche and then abruptly retired. Martin Brodeur was 42 when he finally quit but he was still highly effective into his late 30s.
There is still plenty of time for Price to get his act together. But I said before the season that of all Marc Bergevin’s off-season moves, the most important would be the addition of Jake Allen. Partly because Price needs a capable backup who can enable him to rest if he gets hurt but also because the Canadiens need a goaltender who can step in and be the number one if Price struggles.
Allen has the credentials to be a number one. He has the better numbers this season – 2.02 and a .930 save percentage. It’s no fluke – he was at .927 and 2.15 for the Blues last year.
Let’s make it plain: this Canadiens team was built to contend for a Stanley Cup. To do that, they need a goalie in superb form. If it isn’t to be Carey Price, they can and will turn to Allen.
Price may not be the greatest goalie in hockey history, but he does have a Hall of Fame career already in the books. Unfortunately, reputations don’t stop pucks.