Every NHL teams needs good goaltending to make the playoffs, and the Montreal Canadiens are no different. Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks, Habs net minder Carey Price was phenomenal, stopping 39 of 40 shots faced. Good show by the Team Canada hopeful.
Although making the Canadian Olympic team would be a great honour for the Habs’ franchise player, stopping pucks for his club is the number one priority. If Price is strong this season, another trip to the post season is likely. Anything less than a birth in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs would be considered a failure for the Habs who are ready to win now.
NHL Realignment poses greater challenges for every team’s playoff chances. The new format makes a playoff birth more difficult, requiring perfection on most nights. No longer can a club squeak in at the bottom, rather, now the goal is to finish top 3 in the division, avoiding a wild card birth and almost certain first round showdown with one of the conference’s top clubs in the 1st round of the playoffs.
If Price is amazing for the Habs, the playoffs are realistic. If he falters, it will be tough to get in.
Goaltending is at a premium in the new Atlantic Division. The Habs enjoy the stellar play and potential of Carey Price, while their main competition ice elite goaltenders, as well.
Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask also performed incredibly in the shortened season, posting a GAA of 2.00 and a 0.929 SV%. Rask continued to dominate throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with near perfect numbers, and fourteen wins, just two shy of a Stanley Cup title.
Rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs have received world class goaltending thus far from newly acquired Jonathan Bernier, whose record of 4-1-0 is very impressive. The French Canadian’s numbers are impressive – a GAA of 1.75 and SV% of 0.946 rank him top ten in the league across almost all goaltending categories, not including goalies with only one game played.
The Habs are good. They roster a solid and versatile blue line with offensive explosiveness and defensive acumen.
Up front, they can play any way. An array of size, skill and speed ensure that four Canadiens’ lines can hop the boards and compete against any team in the league.
Fourteen goals in five games is not bad at all, proving the Habs can score enough goals to outdo opponents.
Defensively, they are off to a solid start. Aside from allowing four on opening night, the Habs goals against total is a mere six in four games since that first wild one against the Leafs.
Price has a lot to do with the early season success. His save percentage of 0.929 is the kind of stat everyone expects from one of the game’s most obviously gifted goaltenders. Price is likely not to disappoint this season, he’s been here before, and proven how good he can be on multiple occasions.
The first few months of this season provide an amazing opportunity for Price to establish himself as the best Canadian goaltender, a status that seems to be available at the moment.
Gone are the days of Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Ed Belfour being obvious choices as Canada’s best in net. It’s wide open now. Price has as good a shot as any to suit up for his home country at Sochi, in February of 2014. It’s an opportunity he can’t afford to miss out on.
Much like competitors for Canada’s net, Roberto Luongo, Corey Crawford, Mike Smith and Braydon Holtby, Price’s team relies heavily on his ability to steal games and provide an incredible last line of defence. Playing for Team Canada is just a bonus, but it’s something you have to think about in the back of your mind if you are one of these stellar performers. With extra pressure on, it will be interesting to see how the candidates hold up over the first three months of hockey. Carey Price can take his career to new heights with an Olympic nod. At this point, a spot in the top three is likely his to lose.