The Canadiens are lucky that the bottom half of the North Division has been so bad this season. Ottawa, Vancouver, and Calgary are having their own issues, which has allowed Montreal’s faults to not sink them as they might have in any other year.
With 37 games to go, the Habs are fourth in the division in points percentage (.579) and have games in-hand on the bottom three. They started the season 7-1-2, but the last three weeks have been disastrous and ultimately cost Claude Julien and Kirk Muller their jobs.
Since their two-game sweep of the Canucks to begin February, they’ve been subpar offensively, averaging 2.22 goals per game. The power play has been dreadful, cashing in on 10.5% of their opportunities. The penalty kill has been dreary at 71.9%. Their team even strength save percentage is .917, per Natural Stat Trick, but most of that poor goaltending has been from Carey Price, who has made six of nine starts since the end of that 7-1-2 run. Price’s ESSV% over that stretch is .900, with Jake Allen posting a .944 in his three starts
In acquiring Allen in September and then signing him to a two-year extension, general manager Marc Bergevin found an adequate backup for Price. Here was a veteran goaltender, who was part of a recent Stanley Cup winning team, entering a situation to be a support player. But the time has come to give Allen a run in net.
Thursday’s 6-3 loss to the Jets was Montreal’s fourth in a row and sixth in their last seven games. It was the Canadiens’ first under new head coach Dominique Ducharme, and the old problems remained. Same for Price, who allowed at least four goals for the third game in a row and fifth time this season.
“It’s the same as last game,” Price said afterward. “I’m just sticking to the process and trying to figure it out.”
It’s not just Price who has things to figure out. Special teams has suffered and defensive breakdowns are a regular occurrence. A lot of times teams will get a new-coach bump when a change is made. The Canadiens showed zero signs that was coming against Winnipeg.
“We’re a little fragile right now. It’s normal,” Ducharme said. “We have to find a way to control the things that we have the ability to control. We didn’t do good work in that aspect of the game. We made mistakes that led to scoring chances and goals.”
There’s plenty that Ducharme and his staff will need to fix, but it should start in net. Price has slowly been declining over the last five years with his ESSV% dropping from .943 during his Vezina Trophy winning season of 2014-15 to .911 through 12 games this season.
“I just think maybe I’m overthinking things,” Price said. “That’s all I’ve got for you.”
The scrutiny for Price comes with the territory of playing in a market like Montreal and having a contract like he does. Signed through 2025-26, carrying a $10.5M cap hit and a full no-move clause, per Cap Friendly, it’s not as simple as moving on from him. They’re invested in him, so this needs to be fixed. Allen has a 5-on-5 save percentage of .952 in seven appearances. It’s time to ride the hot hand.
Goaltending coach Stephane Waite called the Allen acquisition a “home run” in the offseason. He knew how valuable Allen’s presence would be to help the 33-year-old Price pace himself during the season. Allen isn’t your regular journeyman backup, however. He’s started in his league, had some success, and shown in limited opportunities this season he can do the job. Ducharme turning to him now may not fix every problem, but it would be a start. Solve the issue between the pipes, then focus on special teams and everything else hindering the Canadiens right now.
Ducharme said Thursday he would look into giving Price a rest. One of the many things he has on his plate.
“Like we do with all our players, we’re going to look at every possibility,” he said. “We want our guys to be playing their best and find solutions for every one of them, from the forwards to the Ds to the goalies. So we’ll find a solution.
“Carey’s a competitor. I’m not worried.”