They were also ten points ahead of the next closest team in the Atlantic Division, and it looked like it would be borderline impossible for anyone to catch up to the dominant Canadiens. Then Carey Price went down with injury, and the whole structure of the team was thrown out of whack.
As a result, the month of December was not kind to Montreal. They lost five straight games and were 3-11 overall. The Canadiens have seen their lead over the rest of the Atlantic diminish, dropping to fifth in the division. The Florida Panthers currently lead the division with 72 points, 14 points ahead of the Canadiens. As a result of this enormous slide that the Canadiens looking outside the playoff picture.
Without Carey Price, the Canadiens have gone 10-23-2 through 35 games.
The good news for Canadiens fans is that the skaters on the Canadiens roster are actually playing strong hockey this season. Last year, the team finished with a 48.6 percent score adjusted Corsi For percentage, which was only good for 22nd in the entire league. They got out-shot drastically at 5-on-5 and frequently depended on Price to bail the team out of dangerous situations.
This season is different, as the Canadiens are sporting a 52.9 percent score adjusted Corsi For percentage. Michel Therrien’s team is playing a system that is much improved from the ones used in the past, as they appear to have abandoned the chip-and-chase and are actually possessing the puck through the neutral zone.
If the Canadiens are an elite possession team now, why are they still losing games? They still have a decent power play (21st in the league) and a good penalty kill (seventh in the league), so it’s not as though special teams are killing the teams chances. Instead, what has been hurting the Canadiens the most is the poor play of their goaltender, as backup Mike Condon has struggled in the starting role.
Goaltenders Mike Condon and Ben Scrivens can’t hold the load. They won’t bring the Canadiens to the playoffs.
In the 37 games he’s played this season, Condon has posted a dismal .900 save percentage in all situations. That number even includes the strong couple of games he had at the start of the season. Ever since Price went down with injury, Condon has .890 save percentage, and the poor showing by the 25-year-old has really hurt the team’s chances in the games that they’ve played.
It also doesn’t help that the team is only shooting at 8.44 percent, as the drop in both percentages has led to the team struggling to score (and prevent) goals. They’re still controlling the run of play, getting around 54 percent of the shot attempts, but some bad shooting luck and iffy goaltending is costing the team hockey games.
Last season, the team might have been able to survive a stretch with poor shooting luck, because Price was playing well enough to still pick up some victories. This year that just hasn’t happened, and the goaltenders that have filled in for Price haven’t just failed to meet expectations, they’ve been dismal.
Price has a .934 save percentage in all situations in the 12 games he’s played with the Canadiens, which is a tremendous improvement over what Condon has been giving Montreal. Seeing as the reigning Vezina trophy winner posted a .933 save percentage last season, it’s reasonable to assume that Price could post over a .925 save percentage again this season.
We all knew that the Canadiens would be a lesser team without Carey Price, but we didn’t quite know just how bad they would be. The roster is playing great hockey this year, and actually is helping Carey Price, and not just expecting him to win the game for them.
That being said, it’s clear that Montreal doesn’t really have a backup goaltender capable of carrying the load if Price goes down for an extended period of time, and it’s something that Marc Bergevin just might want to address if the opportunity arises.
In the meantime, the Canadiens can’t wait for Carey Price to get back on the ice.
(All statistics taken from war-on-ice.com and are score adjusted unless mentioned otherwise).