Carey Price lost again last night. At the end of the day, and especially at this time of year, that's all that matters. But in what appears to be a recurring nightmare for Price, he lost another game he clearly deserved to win.
Or at least it appears to be a recurring nightmare to me, but I'm constantly reminded that it's better not to base your opinions on appearances. Facts always work better.
The most striking fact about Price when compared to Jaroslav Halak is the amount of goal support he gets. The disparity, however, is very difficult to explain. Some say the Habs work harder for Halak because they want to reward the hard work he puts in every day in practice. I suppose it's a plausible theory. Others take it even further to say that guys simply don't give it everything they have when Price is in net, to punish him for his supposed laziness in practice. This, of course, is sheer and utter lunacy.
The truth might lie somewhere in between, or maybe it has nothing to do with any of that. I think at this point the quality of opposition argument is more or less moot, since both Price and Halak have played some formidable teams this season.
Whatever the reason, the numbers are strikingly different for the two goaltenders this season. In Price's 38 starts (counting the comeback win in Anaheim), the Canadiens have scored 88 goals. In Halak's 36 starts (not counting the Anaheim game), that number jumps to 107 goals. Price gets an average goal support of 2.32 per game, while Halak receives 2.97 goals per game.
That is a very wide gap. To put it in perspective, the Canadiens currently sit 23rd in the NHL at 2.58 goals per game. If Price had started every game, Montreal would be dead last in the league in goals per game, behind Boston at 2.38. If Halak had started every game the Habs would be sixth in the NHL, just behind the Penguins at 2.99.
Meanwhile, Price's goals against average in his starts (not counting relief appearances) is 2.76, while Halak's is 2.51. That means Price allows, on average, 0.44 more goals than the Canadiens score for him, while Halak allows 0.46 fewer goals than he receives in support. But if you reversed their goal support, I think you'd also see a significant change in their wins and losses.
It's difficult to quantify (perhaps someone with far better math skills than I could try it), but I would imagine Halak's won-loss record would take a significant hit if he were suddenly allowing 0.19 more goals per game than the Canadiens were scoring. Meanwhile, if Price were allowing 0.23 fewer goals than he got in support, I would think his numbers would change as well.
What should be noted, however, is that Halak's goals against numbers are still better even though both Price (31.7) and Halak (31.9) see about the same number of shots per start. But even that may be the result of better goal support, because a team that is trailing in a game will take more chances, which in turn lead to more quality scoring opportunities for the other team.
I don't know what it is, but watching Price storm off the ice last night and later throw his teammates under the bus a bit after the game showed that his frustration with this disparity is beginning to seriously weigh on him. I'd be annoyed as well if I hadn't played in over two weeks, came up with a 40-save masterpiece and still lost.
In fact, that's happened more often than normal for Price, who only has a 10-6-3 record when making at least 30 saves in a game. Halak's record in that situation? 11-2-2. Or how about this? When Price has an in-game save percentage of at least .920, his record is 9-5-2. Halak's is 16-3-2.
That's a lot of numbers, but all they serve to do is confuse me further as to why this is the situation. At the same time, however, the "why" is of little importance right now. Maybe it's just a massive, tragic coincidence. Maybe the team really does play better in front of Halak. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
But one thing that is no longer in doubt after last night's team meltdown in the final two minutes of regulation is that Price, for whatever reason, is not winning games through little fault of his own. Which is why Jacques Martin's decision to go with Halak tonight against the Panthers is a sound one, one that should probably be repeated another seven times this season and further into the playoffs.
It's a shame for Price and probably unfair that he be punished for something that simply can't be explained, but there's no longer any time left for fairness this season.