One byproduct of a short best-of-five series is the fear of the hot goalie stealing a series. As Elliotte Friedman pointed out a few days ago, no goalie is more respected around the NHL than Montreal’s Carey Price:
Here’s where Carey Price ranked in the last three NHLPA Player Polls among goalies: first, first and first. The closest of those votes was 12 percentage points. Pittsburgh is not crazy about this matchup, and Price was a big reason players fought against the opening round being a best-of-three. Whatever the numbers say, he’s got the deep respect of his peers.
The Penguins though won’t, and shouldn’t be intimidated.
Talked with GMJR earlier this week about 24-team format and playing Habs in preliminary round: “We will be happy to play and we will do what the league wants, wherever, against whoever as long as it’s safe for everyone.”— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) May 23, 2020
This idea that they are afraid to play Price is absurd.
One simple look though shows that, well, anyone and everyone could have a goalie steal a playoff series. Toronto is seeded to face the Columbus Blue Jackets, where rookie sensation Elvis Merzlikins had five shutouts in just 31 starts. Merzlikins’ .923 save% this year was also significantly better than Price’s .909%.
Point being, NHL teams see good goalies in the playoffs. Playing a shorter series isn’t ideal, but Montreal also only won 19 games in regulation this season, among the lowest in the league. They also sold at the deadline trading off Marco Scandella, Ilya Kovalchuk and Nate Thompson for futures, weakening themselves further.
Pittsburgh also beat the Canadiens two out of three times already this year, facing Price in all of the games. Price is also only 13-14-5 with just a .907 save% all-time against the Pens, which means Pittsburgh has won the overwhelming majority of games they’ve played against him.
Price is also not exactly a playoff warrior, having not won a playoff series since 2015, not even playing in one since 2015, and only having three playoff series wins in the last decade.
Two out of the last three seasons, including this one, Price has been below average in save percentage and goals saved above average. The Habs were tied-19th allowing 3.10 goals in 2019-20, they’re far from a stout defensive team.
If this was 2014 or 2015, Price is a monster that should be feared. That reputation remains strong among his peers, because he is a very talented netminder. But his team stinks and he hasn’t done a lot lately. Sure, he could get hot and eliminate Pittsburgh — anything can happen in the hockey playoffs (see TB vs. CBJ last year) — but the facts remain that the Pens are a much stronger team than the Canadiens and shouldn’t fear a once formidable goalie who recently has only been about average.