The Rangers have had their first round opponent set in stone for a while now, so we have all had time to make peace with the fact that we will be watching the very best goaltender in the world try to dash the Blueshirts’ playoff dreams. The last time these two teams met in the postseason, Carey Price was knocked out of the series early by Chris Kreider, so the Rangers have never really had to deal with him in a full series. That is about to change.
Price is coming off a tremendous year for a very flawed Montreal club. As Dave mentioned in his systems preview, the Habs do have quite a bit of talent all over the ice, but relatively little depth. When (potentially) rolling four lines capable of scoring, Price’s job will be to mask (pun intended) that lack of depth.
I was tempted to make this entire preview simply say “Price is better than every other goaltender at everything”, which is only half hyperbole. Let’s breakdown what makes the 29-year old BC native such a special talent…
You know the drill by now, we will break down Stance, Crease Movmement/Depth, Equipment, Puck Handling and Exploitable Weaknesses. Let’s give it a go.
As Price’s career has progressed, his style and set up have evolved significantly. I did a preview of his game back in 2014 and his stance has evolved even further. As I mentioned back then, his career began with a more upright and relaxed stance, focused on balance and weight distribution. He saw an intermediate period a couple years ago, when he began to set with a wider foot spread and a more aggressive crouch. This season, however, he has set the stance even wider, so the distance from pad to ice is almost non-existent. He and Henrik Lundqvist are probably the quickest to ground goalies in the NHL, at this point.
We will cover this is in greater depth in the section below, but what this lower set up allows him to do is transition into his butterfly slide on low scrambles much faster, but also has a couple other added advantages. For one, it creates a greater illusion for shooters that there is no room down low. His feet cover basically the entire width of the net and with the low crouch, the five-hole doesn’t appear viable either. It’s a very difficult look for the shooter.
Finally, there is less distance on the recover from the butterfly back up. A quick little transition and he is back to set, either coming off of post integration or coming out of a slide. He has created an additional level of efficiency with this stance evolution.
Speaking of efficiency, Price is the poster-boy for movement efficiency. It is not hyperbole to say that no goaltender in the history of the sport has moved with such economy, fluidity and poise. He is the goaltender you use to teach young players the position.
Price’s edgework and balance are unparalleled and his accuracy in and around the crease is basically automatic. Because of this skill set, Price has no issues with multiple chances, as he is able to re-calibrate his positioning to get large portions of his frame in front of those shots.
Price’s crease depth is about average, but picks his spots to aggressively cut down the angle very well. He doesn’t stray too far out, as he likes to have a reasonable distance from point A to point B when needing to travel laterally.
His angles are meticulous and he very rarely gets beat straight on. The game seems to slow down for Price, making his movements look effortless, and at times, has come across as lazy, especially early in his career. The bottom line is that he is confident in his movements and mobility and is less prone to be lured into desperation-type saves. This may appear that he lacks that “never give up on the play” mentality that garnered so much praise for guys like Tim Thomas and Dominik Hasek, but make no mistake, if Price is beaten, 99% of the time he was in the best possible position to stop the puck.
Price is currently wearing the third generation CCM E-Flex Pro pads. This line was basically designed for Price when he agreed to make the switch from Vaughn several years ago. The gear has been gradually modified to meet Price’s very detailed specifications and, at this point the stock model is fairly reflective of his own preferences.
Over the past few seasons, CCM has undertaken significant research in conjunction with the University of Western Ontario to determine optimal strapping setups and pad materials. They have since changed the traditional Clarino exterior material to a newly developed synthetic called “Speed Skin”, which under full season testing had less friction on the surface, which led to less effort in sliding, while still maintaining comparable durability to Clarino.
The testing also extended to optimizing weight distribution in the pad, thinning out the thigh rise and optimizing the strapping system to create the lowest drop time into the butterfly. Now, the disparity in quality amongst NHL equipment manufacturers is fairly minute, but clearly a significant amount of research and resources have been committed to giving Price every possible edge.
Like many other goaltenders this season, Price has also switched to a cowling-less skate (see above photo). He uses a VH boot and a custom Step Steel holder/steel combo. As I highlighted in this equipment preview article, this type of skate set up allows for significantly greater attack angle on butterfly slides (the less you have to pick your knee up to grip the ice), leading to much faster transitions and more ice seal during sliding.
Not much has changed with Price in the puck-handling department, so I am just going to quote myself to give you the info:
“Like just about anything else in Price’s game, he is a solid puck handler. Like most, however, he isn’t a Mike Smith or a Marty Brodeur with homerun outlet passes and stretch plays. He handles the biscuit competently and distributes it effectively. He has the power and accuracy to lead teammates catching a bad change, or ice the puck on the PK, but it’s not a major part of his game.”
As you can probably surmise from reading the rest of the article, there really are none. There is no glaring deficiency in Price’s game, short of his semi-recent injury history. I know that no one would wish an injury on Price in this series, so the Rangers are going to have to concentrate on disrupting his line of sight and creating havoc and missed coverage around the Canadiens’ net.
Claude Julien is a very effective defensive coach, so this will be a significant challenge for the Rangers. The biggest key will be creating those bottom six mismatches and exploiting the bottom pairings for the Habs. This will be their best chance to put Price on a tilt a little bit though blown coverages.
The Rangers unfortunately have drawn the most difficult goaltending matchup in the entirety of the playoffs. There are certainly better teams than Montreal in the postseason, but none have a better goaltender. This will be a big first test for the Blueshirts to see if they have the firepower to make a deep run. It can only get easier from here.