Updated: Sep 28, 2019
Fresh off an impressive shutout by Keith Kinkaid on Saturday night versus the Ottawa Senators, I got to thinking about the Toronto Raptors, load management, and the absolute necessity of a quality back-up goalie for the goal-starved Habs. (Charles Lingren lost 3-0 to the Leafs as I write this, but I’m not worried.) The Raptors' amazing run to the championship would not have been possible had the team not protected the amount of minutes all-star forward and finals MVP Kawhi Leonard played during the 82-game grind of the regular season.
Carey Price was finally healthy last year and played in 66 games getting 76 of the Habs' 96 points. They missed the playoffs by 2 points (3 if you count the fact they needed another tie-breaker). Am I the only one worried that, given that many minutes last year plus the injury-prone nature* of Price (2012, 2015, 2017), the back-up position in Montreal is more important than ever before. (* I just sneezed and pulled a back muscle, 2 ribs and my neck is sore. I am not saying Price is soft. He is unlucky to say the least. I’m soft!)
Since the season hasn’t started yet, let’s enter the world of hypotheticals and do some Habs propositions.
Proposition #1 - Carey Price plays 65 games, gets the Habs another 4 points and makes the playoffs
Great. We made the playoffs. Nice little Wild Card spot playing Tampa Bay or another beast in the first round. Price is exhausted and the Habs cannot match the fire power of their first round opponent. The Habs get bounced due to Price’s exhaustion. Furthermore, since when is it the goal of the Montreal Canadiens to merely make the playoffs? And before you bring up the miracle year of 2010 when the Habs beat Pittsburgh and Washington only to lose to the Flyers in the Conference Final, that was Halak in net. And the NHL was still a league where Hal Gill could prosper, so calm down!
Proposition #2 - Claude Julien channels his inner Nick Nurse and uses Load Management. Price Plays 60 games.
Great. Price is fresh. There is only one problem: the back-ups are in for 22 games. Using last year’s stats, that means Price would get 69 points. It took 98 points to make the playoffs in the East last year. This means the back-up needs 29 points in 22 games (.659 win%). Is that happening? If you are 40 years old like me, you not only pull muscles while sneezing, but you also remember legendary back-ups like Brian Hayward, Andre “Red-Light Racicot”, and Jeff Hackett. They got in a lot of games in the 80’s and 90’s and the Habs regularly made the playoffs. You are forgetting that the Habs played in the Adams Division where 4 out of 5 teams made the playoffs regardless of the records of other teams in other divisions. You could afford to have a .500 back-up, especially if Patrick Roy was the “other” goalie.
Proposition #3 - Load Management + A Solid Back-up + A Habs Powerplay that isn’t Historically Bad
Even a mediocre power play would have gotten the Habs into the playoffs last year. Remember the 2014 Habs who got to game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals? (I still think Chris Kreider did it on purpose). They had a reliable PP, Carey Price played 59 games that year and they got solid back-up goaltending (12-8-3). A fresh Carey Price got them almost all the way. (I really think Chris Kreider did it on purpose!) There's no way in hell that the powerplay will be as bad as last year...right?
It’s election season. Vote for Proposition #3!
- Waldo1947, Montreal Canadiens Columnist