Thursday, April 22, 2010

Goaltending Problems in Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge

OK, so who does Jacques Martin turn to now?

There have been no shortage of fiery goaltenders in the history of the NHL. Billy Smith, Ron Hextall, Patrick Roy, to name but three – all of them played at a high-level of performance and with an edge to their games. But more often than not, goaltenders are the calm, unflappable sort who maintain a keen focus on the puck as the chaos of skaters swirls about them.

Which brings us to Carey Price and the decision Jacques Martin faces for Game 5 in Washington on Friday. Price was hardly abused, hardly ruffled in the first two periods of play last night at Bell Centre. He faced nine shots in each of the first two periods and looked for all the world like a guy without a care in the world, tending his own little blue bubble of a crease.

Then came the third period. The Caps had six shots on goal before the period was three minutes old. It was the momentum borne out of a late shorthanded goal by Mike Knuble that came with 6.3 seconds left until intermission. And now, Price was standing in the path of the storm, his nice blue bubble not nearly so calm.

Price stood firmly against the Caps squeezing his crease, but in what would be a curious symmetry to the game, the Caps scored on their ninth shot of the period (making them 1-for-9 in each of the three periods). The problem was that the goal, scored by Alex Ovechkin, came with 8:51 yet to play and gave the Caps a lead.

The Caps then scored on their next shot, a put back of a Matt Bradley attempt by Jason Chimera from the other side of the crease. After the goal Price, who had up until now the demeanor of a cadaver, retrieved the puck from his net and shot it at the Caps celebrating the goal along the wall.

Two minutes, pouting.

Price wasn’t done. With the Caps holding a 5-2 lead, he was pulled for an extra attacker with more than two minutes remaining. Mike Knuble, however, found the empty net with 2:27 left to give the Caps a 5-2 lead. Dominic Moore got that back with a goal less than a minute later, giving the Canadiens a breath of life with 1:18 left and down a pair of goals. Price was pulled again. He could only stand and watch, though, as Nicklas Backstrom potted a second empty-netter with 11 seconds left. Except “stand and watch” wasn’t exactly what he did. As Backstrom was heading to the bench to receive congratulations, he passed the Canadiens’ bench, at which point Price took a two-handed swipe of his goalie stick at Backstrom’s legs.

Two minutes, sore loser.

We get the frustration part, and often times that plays out with extra-curriculars among the skaters in the waning moments of a game. But a goalie taking a swipe with his stick at an opposing player from his own bench? You’d have to go back pretty far in time to find that one (at the moment, we can’t think of a similar instance, but readers are free to contribute).

If that is Price’s mental state as Game 4 ended, you would have to question whether he would be fit to give Montreal a chance to win in Game 5. Sure, there are 48 hours before that game starts, long enough for tempers to settle. But Price has been stewing, more or less, on the Canadiens’ bench for most of the stretch run and was a fall-back in response to the problems that Jaroslav Halak had in Games 2 and 3. More to the point, the shooting of the puck at the Caps and the bench antics seem entirely out of character for Price. That isn’t a temper thing, That might be the product of lingering frustration over the year he’s had.

It leaves the Canadiens’ goaltending a mess. Halak has been ratted out as Montreal’s answer to Jim Carey (with that yawning void over his catching glove), and Price went loopy twice in the space of eight minutes of the third period.

All of a sudden, the Caps’ goaltending looks mighty fine.


SuzukiSandy said...

Coach Jacques Martin starts Theodore for Game 5 at Verizon Center. The crowd goes wild.

mattymatty said...

If things go to plan we'll be facing Brian Boucher in the next round too. Hopefully we can close the Canadiens out and move on on Friday.