As a fan of a Western Conference team, I don't get to see much of the Montreal Canadiens, but from what I hear, it is unclear whether Carey Price is a legitimate No. 1 goaltender.
Despite being ridiculed by some fans, it sounds as if Carey Price is without a doubt the team's starting netminder and as a fan of big goalies, Price's 6-foot-3, 219 pound frame sounds well suited for a No. 1 job.
But on the same note, there was another young goaltender with similar size that performed quite better than Price. That goalie was in fact the Anaheim Ducks' Jonas Hiller, who put up tremendous numbers as a rookie last season.
Just to be clear, here are the numbers side by side from last season:
Jonas Hiller (6-foot-2, 196): 23-15-1/.919/2.39/4
Carey Price (6-foot-3, 219): 23-16-10/.905/2.83/1
Both netminders finished with 23 wins in the regular season but Hiller won 23 in just 39 games, while Price won 23 in 49 games. However, Hiller's save percentage and GAA blow Price out of the water.
To be fair, Jonas Hiller did have two of the best defensemen in the world playing in front of him in Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. But on the same token the Ducks were one of the most penalized teams in the league.
So whether or not you argue that Hiller had the better team around him is quite insignificant.
In fact, both Montreal and Anaheim were two of the most penalized teams in the league last season. Anaheim finished second with 442 penalty minutes, while Montreal was right behind them in third with 437 minutes.
Plus on the scoring end, both the Habs and the Ducks finished one behind the other in goals per game. Montreal finished 13th in the NHL with 2.95 goals per game and Anaheim ranked 14th with 2.90.
Therefore, both goaltenders were dealing with highly penalized teams who scored nearly exactly the same amount of goals per game.
Defensively you could argue that the Ducks have bigger names on their roster, but without seeing much of the Habs games, the only way I can judge defense is based on plus/minus.
With that, let's take a look at two of the top Montreal defensemen and two of the top Anaheim defenseman from last season in terms of plus/minus.
Scott Niedermayer: minus-8
Chris Pronger: even plus/minus
Andrei Markov: minus-4
Roman Hamrlik: plus-2
Now clearly plus/minus figures aren't the only way to judge defensive capabilities but since I don't have the money to buy the Center Ice package, I don't have much of a reference of Montreal's talent in their own zone.
However, from these numbers, the only thing you can take away is that Montreal's top two defenseman had a better plus/minus last season than Anaheim's top two defenseman.
So even if Anaheim truly did play better in their own zone than Montreal did last season, it couldn't have been by too big of a margin.
Consequently, the statistics seem to show that both Montreal and Anaheim had pretty similar seasons last year in all facets of the game other than goaltending.
Therefore it is no surprise that both these teams finished eighth in their respective conferences.
But it was expert goaltending from Jonas Hiller that led the Anaheim Ducks to a first round upset over the President's Trophy winning San Jose Sharks. Hiller stepped up his performance from the regular season and out-dueled Evgeni Nabokov.
In the six game series, Hiller's save percentage was a ridiculous .958, stopping 230 of 240 San Jose shots.
Meanwhile, Carey Price's playoff performance was one to forget. In four games against Boston, Price allowed 15 goals on 123 shots for an abysmal .878 save percentage.
Again, I'm not the most familiar with Montreal and the Habs style of play but is Price really the best option between the pipes?
This past playoffs wasn't the first taste of playoff action for Price who had played two postseason series the year before. Therefore it is difficult to cut him slack just because he is a young goaltender.
Now in Hiller's case, these past playoffs were his first postseason action and he performed admirably, despite still technically being a rookie goaltender.
However, Hiller is already 27-years-old and had been developing his game prior to the NHL level for a longer time period than Price who was thrust into the starting role as a 20-year-old.
Therefore it may make sense to let the Montreal goaltender work on his game in the AHL before having to be relied on as a true No. 1 in the NHL.
And perhaps maybe Price isn't the long-term answer in net for the Canadiens. As a Sharks fan, I may be a tad hard on him because he had one of his worst games of his career against San Jose.
The game with Brian Campbell's famous spin move ended up in a 6-4 Sharks win and Price looked absolutely terrible. Sharks announcers had raved about his ability before the game and as a hockey fan I was excited to see what he could do.
However, after that game, most Sharks fans were extremely disappointed in Price's performance. Especially on Campbell's goal because not many people remember this but after the spin-o-rama move, the shot was a weak back-hand that snuck through the five-hole. A puck that clearly should have been stopped.
Granted, the San Jose game is just one of many games Price will go onto play in his career but his .905 save percentage from this past regular season didn't do much to help his cause.
Either way, as a fan from out West, I'm curious how Price will perform in the upcoming season. Hopefully the young kid steps up his game and proves me wrong but perhaps it would be best if he start a couple more seasons in the American League to hone his game.
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