Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Price saves his emotion for after the game, another loss to Boston.

Time to discuss Montreal's Sacred Cow, aka; Carey Price.

Carey Price, to me, is a decent goalie. Nothing more, nothing less. Can he get hot? Of course he can, just as any decent goalie could. He has some very good technical skills. Although, puck handling clearly is not among them. I jump out of my seat in anticipation every time I see him leave his crease to play a puck. But what he doesn't have, and the one thing Habs fans hung their collective hat on last year was, mental toughness. I think the Montreal faithful have confused dispassionate play for "calmness". Price isn't overly demonstrative in net, which is fine. Many a great goaltender has not been. But, he goes beyond being "calm". He looks downright sedated in there most of the time. I know teams don't want to look behind them and see a goalie who looks like he's over anxious all the time. I get that. But I also know that players like to play in front of a goalie that they KNOW cares as much as they do, and battles as hard as they do. Anyone who claims Price has shown that, has not been paying attention. I've mentioned it here before, that he gives up on plays quite often. Contrast that with Thomas, and it's striking. Price assumes the guy left uncovered on the far post will score once the puck gets there. Thomas defies you to score and makes you earn every goal you get. It's a distinct, and telling, personality difference.

I look at it like this; Thomas has been doubted, mocked and written off his entire professional career. Price on the other hand, has had nothing but rave reviews amid expectations of greatness. Obviously the underdog will always have more of a chip on his shoulder, while the "next great thing" has more of a tendency to develop lazy habits etc. In Price, I see not that calm persona the Habs fans see, rather a timid youngster, too insecure to fully exert himself or emote openly on the ice. Pressure and high expectations manifest themselves in many ways. Some people it's obvious, they can't stand still, they have many twitches and quirks etc.But for some, it's much more subtle. And in my eyes, Price clearly falls into that latter category. Watch him after a goal against, especially a soft one (he gives up one softy per game, so you'll get your chance). His reaction, rather than a Tim Thomas like display of anger at himself, is a sullen, beaten....almost embarrassed look. The slight head shake as if he's in disbelief that HE of all people has allowed a goal. If I'm a teammate or a fan, I'd much rather see my goalie pissed at himself, not looking around as if to say "it wasn't my fault"

And if anecdotal evidence like that isn't proof enough for you (I know, never trust your lying eyes right?), just look at last years playoffs. Price entered that series pre-ordained the next Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy all rolled into one. Guess what? He didn't win that seven game series for them. If anything, he damn near blew it for them. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you score on him early, it's lights out. The self doubt that creeps into him is palpable. You can literally SEE him start to wonder what kind of a night it's going to be. Crowd the crease on him, and it just accelerates the process. He's a "technical" goalie. Anything that throws him off of his rhythm is a death sentence.

So, what does all that mean? Well, for one, it means you'll see the Bruins shooting pucks from anywhere and everywhere. You'll also see a steady stream of Bruins heading to the Montreal crease to say hello to young Mr. Price. The B's may not be the biggest team in the world, but they have more than enough players that can be effective posting up in front. Mark Recchi being the best of the bunch as far as scoring goes of course. But the likes of Lucic, Thornton, Yelle, Kobasew, Bergeron among others (including Chara occasionally) are well suited to causing problems in front. Of course, the turtle boys will do their best to clear the crease of any Black & Gold traffic, but with the way the rules are written now, it's nearly impossible to do so legally. All it takes is a little commitment from the offensive player, and they can set up camp in front all night. I fully expect that to be the case.

But it isn't just the B's players that can get into his head. I'm convinced crowd noise and chanting affects Price as well. Obviously, like every athlete, he'd deny it. But again, just look at his performances when facing a hostile crowd as opposed to being cheered by the home folks. Night and day. Mental toughness my friends, mental toughness. Some have it, some pretend to.

So, after reading all this, you probably assume I think Price will be a total bust. Get lit up every game, right? Actually, no. I expect him to play reasonably well for the most part. As I said, he's a decent goalie. And decent goalies don't get shelled on a regular basis. But, what I do expect is for him to give up a smattering of absolutely crushing goals. Like I said, he's good for that one bad one per game, and that is a recipe for disaster in the playoffs.

He also carries no "mystique" to this Bruins team that has had more success against him than any other team. And that is a huge consideration. Many a playoff series has been lost before they even started because team B was convinced they couldn't score against team A's goalie. Simply not the case here. They've done it all year, and they did it last post-season. Price giving up five goals to Boston is no longer news-worthy, it's practically a common event.

I've seen a few Montreal fans comment that the Habs are in a good position because of their goal tending "depth". The logic goes that,if Price stumbles, you just roll out Halak and the Habs don't miss a beat. Well, I'm sorry but that's a bunch of garbage. If the playoff pressure gets to Price, as it very well may, why does anyone think Halak would stand up to it any better? He's also a young kid, who has never been thrust into the spotlight like that. In fact, it could be argued that if Halak ended up having to play, he'd be under even more pressure than Price. Because if Halak gets the nod, it means it's desperation time in Montreal, and all their hopes ride on his shoulders. I'm just not convinced he's equipped to handle it. And as the old saying goes, if you don't have one goalie, you don't have A goalie.

All of this puts Gainey in an interesting quandary. What if Price gets shelled in game one? Does he pull him, on the road in front of a very hostile fan base? Does he let him stay in and take his beating, conceding the loss in the process? Which does more long term harm to Carey's psyche? Honestly, I don't know what I would do in that situation. It almost seems like a lose-lose for him. If he pulls him, sure, I guess it gives him time to regroup. But it also gives him time to sit there and contemplate how wrong it all went. All while sitting idly by, with no way to change anything (and getting and earful from the Garden faithful). If he stays in, even if he stops the bleeding, does that help him? He'd have taken the loss, and not had much time between seeing the same opponent again to get his head straight again. That scenario could very well lead to a snowballing effect on his confidence, especially if he allows an early goal in game 2. I'm not convinced he could shake off the bad start in either scenario, so obviously I'm rooting for an early goal.

The bottom line is this;Boston is the far superior team this year. Their depth all over the ice is unmatched by Montreal. All things being equal, and by that I mean power plays and the like, the Habs simply have to steal games with outrageous goal tending. And honestly, although I know ANYTHING is possible, I just don't think Price is the one to pull that off. If he does, I'll tip my cap to him (while blasting the B's for choking of course). But I feel pretty confident that there will be no cap tipping in my future, other than to say "better luck next year fellas".
One more day.....the wait is killing me. Go B's-Kynch

1 comment:

  1. One side effect of Price's demeanor is that he doesn't get into the shooters' heads. Timmy has a way of driving opponents crazy with unlikely (or often, unconventional) saves. After a while, the shooter starts to try too hard -- usually trying to pick corners or get the shot away too quickly. Thomas's posts seem very friendly when that happens. Price on the other hand gives you the impression that ANY shot can go in, and that has a calming effect on the shooter.

    Great article, this should be a fascinating goalie matchup.