Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A lesson in goaltending from Carey Price

Being completely ignorant about the intricacies of NHL goaltending, I learned Tuesday night that what I believed was one of Carey Price's biggest strengths is in fact viewed as a weakness by the man himself.

I have always felt that Price is at his best when pucks are simply hitting him and he's smothering them afterwards, but that attribute apparently has a name in the goaltending lexicon; it's called being "blocky."

That was Price's word for it. And it's not a compliment.

"It's all (puck) tracking," Price explained after his masterful performance in Montreal's 4-1 win oer the Blackhawks. "When you’re feeling well, you’re moving better. Over the course of practice during the year you start to get a little too blocky. I don’t know if you know that term, it means you’re just trying to block pucks instead of reacting to them. You stop watching pucks into your body and start just kind of flinching at them. When you start doing that I think that’s when things start going downhill."

We'd seen a lot of that flinching at pucks from Price in recent weeks, and those shrugs or jerks rarely resulted in saves (check out that Jarkko Ruutu dazzler of a backhand a couple of weeks back). But starting Saturday night against the Sabres, and continuing into this game against Chicago, Price wasn't the least bit blocky. He was whatever the opposite of blocky is.

The confidence he exuded throughout Tuesday's game transcended the entire team, to the point where the loss of key pieces like Sergei Kostitsyn, or his brother Andrei for 19 minutes, or most importantly Roman Hamrlik did not cause the Canadiens to spin into a nosedive like it might have two or three weeks ago. Nor did a goal from Patrick Sharp with just under eight minutes to play in regulation to make the game 3-1. In fact, the Canadiens got that goal right back from Mathieu Schneider on a power play, though Christopher Higgins insists he's going to "steal that one" because he got a stick on it.

"It's part of what makes up a good team," Bob Gainey said of how a goalie's confidence can become infectious. "It's a big part of it."

So big, in fact, that if Price has indeed gotten that mojo back I'm not sure any of the top four seeds in the East would want to face Montreal in the playoffs. That may be a little premature, but the possibility of Price suddenly becoming dominant on the eve of the playoffs is a turn of events that few could have reasonably seen coming only a week ago.


B B said...

Very good call on "feeling" the team had turned the corner. As you called it, this team could be very dangerous in two weeks...

Topham said...

Good lesson. I'd noticed the blockiness, but assumed he was always like that and the D had changed. I think he still is a blocker extraordinaire really, though throwing in the glove hand is helping to no end now.

Unfortunately for Price and for us most teams ahead of us also have goalies who have non-blocky games, even two in a row. Boston has the Vezina front-runner, NJ one of the least blocky goalies ever, NYR and Carolina resurgent goalies just like Price.

It's great Price is turning it around, but we're not alone here – it looks like 5 or 6 teams could have great momentum coming into the Eastern half of the draw.

Let's make it before we get too excited about what momentum could mean, no?