While uncertainty over the Montreal Canadiens’ goaltending situation was plentiful in the offseason after the team traded playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis and instilled Carey Price as the de facto No. 1 goalie, Price’s play this season silenced some of his critics.
The 23-year-old is on pace for career-bests in wins, goals against average, save percentage and already established a career-high in shutouts. While that’s all great for the Canadiens who remain within striking distance of the division lead, the fact remains that the 6-foot-3, 222-pound goaltender is on pace for a whopping 74 starts this year, and that’s simply too much to ask of anyone.
Jacques Martin’s reliance on his star goaltender isn’t all that surprising considering Price’s play this season. However, Price’s recent numbers suggest that playing backup Alex Auld, who is 2-2 with a 1.91 GAA and .937 save percentage, might not be such a bad idea.
Since coming out of the gates very strongly and firmly entrenching himself amongst the league’s goalie leaders in nearly every statistical category, Price’s play has dropped off somewhat recently. In Price’s last 10 starts, he’s given up 33 goals and his save percentage in that time span is at 87.7 percent, a staggeringly low number.
While it’s entirely possible that Price’s play may have simply come back down to Earth after his blazing hot start, it’s more likely that he’s simply burned out from playing at a much more frequent pace than he’s used to. In his young career, Price’s career-high in games played is 52, a number he achieved during his disappointing sophomore season. Last season, Price only played in 41 games as Halak took over down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Price recently refused to use fatigue as an excuse in an interview with Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette.
“Everybody gets tired at some point. It’s no secret,” Price told Hickey. “There are guys in every locker room in the league who get tired. It’s these mid-season games, between 30 and 60. You don’t see the starting line and you don’t see the finish line. These are the times you have to play through.”
However, a 74-start pace isn’t very frequent in the league, and most (read: Martin Brodeur) who handle it are used to such heavy workloads.
The recent news that the team’s best remaining defenseman, Josh Gorges, is out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, and it’s seemingly certain that Price is in line for more starts and more shots every night out. Martin’s reliance on team defense has worked well for Montreal this year as they remain tied for third in the NHL in goals against. However, since the system relies so much on goaltending and tries to compensate for an inconsistent popgun offense that ranks fifth-worst in goals for, the pressure on Price only mounts with every single game that goes by.
Martin would be best to dial Price’s workload back a bit and let Auld get some additional minutes. That’s not a slam on Price. It’s merely an indicator that Price needs to rest a bit more and Auld needs to get extra minutes. When given the opportunity this season, Auld stepped in and held the fort for the Canadiens. While Price gives the team a chance to win every single night, he shouldn’t be asked to play 90 percent of the team’s games.
If the Canadiens expect to make another magical run throughout the postseason against teams that will be better, deeper and fresher than them, Price will be the biggest reason why. The Habs simply cannot afford to burn him out during the regular season when Auld can play and not cost the team several games.