Last season, the Montreal Canadiens began their year on a tear by going 9-0-0 and appeared destined to go all the way come spring. Unfortunately for them, their All-Star goalie in Carey Price went down with an injury in November which eventually kept him out for the rest of the season.
As a result of his absence, along with a few others, the Canadiens proceeded to have one of the worst stretches in their history. They went a combined 6-18-1 over a 2-month period, while also missing the playoffs in the process. Even though the ending of their season really stung the Habs’ faithful, there was at least a silver lining that Price would be fully recovered and ready to go the following year.
With the 2016-17 season nearing its halfway mark, Price’s presence in the lineup has proven to be the Canadiens’ most important piece. Entering Saturday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal is leading the Atlantic Division with a record of 24-9-6, and they have Price to thank for it.
Everyone on the Canadiens roster has played a role in their turnaround, but a healthy Price has been the biggest reason why their team is back in contention. Currently, as of Jan. 7, he has 19 wins, a .930 save percentage, and a 2.02 goals against average, which has helped him establish himself once again as one of the best and most consistent goalies in hockey.
In his most recent start against the Nashville Predators, Price duelled against one of the NHL’s best goalies in Pekka Rinne. The game was extremely close, but Price was able to outperform Rinne, helping guide his team to a 2-1 overtime win. Despite only facing 23 shots, Price posted a solid .957 save percentage and 22 saves in the win, while Rinne made 41 saves and a .953 save percentage. Even though the Canadiens’ goalie didn’t have as many saves, he kept his team in the game the entire night, while proving he’s a force to be reckoned with in any situation.
The Canadiens would not be able to lead their standings without the solid work that Price puts in each of his starts. After finding out how hard it was to win without Price last season, the Canadiens are now capitalizing on almost all their opportunities to fulfill their potential this season. As long as Price continues to put up Vezina Trophy-worthy numbers, there shouldn’t be any doubt that the Canadiens will have their chance to continue playing towards a Stanley Cup.
In addition to Price’s brilliant play, Montreal has gotten some great support from the team’s surprisingly lethal offence. The Canadiens are currently the 4th highest scoring team in the NHL with 119 goals, thanks to players like Max Pacioretty, Alexander Radulov, Alex Galchenyuk, and Paul Byron.
A player worth especially mentioning is Radulov, who has proven to be one of the best free agent signings of the 2016 offseason, having already registered 9 goals and 20 assist for 29 points in 37 games this season. Radulov’s solid production so far this year has been a surprise, especially with him having already famously left the NHL twice over his career to play in the KHL.
The most impressive part about the Canadiens’ offence, which has also provided Price with outstanding support, is that their scoring distribution is well-balanced. Besides Pacioretty and Radulov, the Habs have also seen offensive contributions from their defensemen, with their core of Shea Weber, Andrei Markov, and Jeff Petry each scoring 19 points or more so far this season. Their defence, which has allowed the 5th fewest goals against in the NHL at 90, has become a threat and should help them go a long way as they protect Price in net.
Additionally, the Canadiens have also been a very solid possession team all year-long, with 17 of their players maintaining a Corsi-for and a Fenwick-for of at least 50%. The team also has the 3rd best adjusted Corsi-for percentage at 53.67%, scoring on 51.3% of their chances, and scoring 55.2% of their chances in high-risk areas.
Put it all together, and it becomes easy to see why the Canadiens have been able to turn around their fortunes so quickly. With a healthy Price playing at a high level and a balanced offensive unit with scoring from both their star forwards and defensemen, the team has made themselves Stanley Cup contenders once again this season.
All stats for this article are from Hockey-Reference.com.
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