It’s been more than nine months since Carey Price last suited up in an NHL game, but the 29-year-old has the numbers and experience to back up his claim to the starting job for Canada.
That Canada heads into the World Cup with questions about who will be their starting netminder isn’t a unique situation. The same could be said for USA, Czech Republic, Finland, Team Europe and Team North America. What makes Canada’s position unique, though, is that their starter should be a player who hasn’t seen game action for the better part of the past year.
As Canada heads toward the tournament, they have the choice between three netminders: Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford and Carey Price. Less than two weeks remain before Canada takes the ice for their first tournament game, and coach Mike Babcock said the decision about who will be the No. 1 netminder at the tournament hasn’t been made, though exhibition games could help make the choice.
“We’re playing back to back right away in exhibition, so we wouldn’t play a goalie back to back in exhibition for sure,” Babcock said, via The Associated Press. “So there’s going to be opportunities for more than one goaltender.”
One of the goaltenders who will almost assuredly get a shot in the back-to-back pre-tournament games against the rival Americans is Price. And when the dust settles and the tournament begins, it should be Price’s net to lose, regardless of how he fares his first time out.
Price could very well come into his first game back and turn in a stellar performance, but there’s an equal chance he comes in with some rust. He’s only now getting back to NHL-calibre practices after missing much of the past season with an MCL sprain. And despite the lead up to the tournament and the high-energy ice times, it’s near impossible to simulate a game situation. Price told NHL.com’s Chris Stevenson that he simply wants to get the first one out of the way.
"I'm just anxious to get back into that first game and kind of get going and start getting your routine going again and getting a feel for the game," Price told Stevenson. "But [having played] over 400 games in the NHL, it shouldn't take me too long to get back into it.”
And once he “gets back into it,” you’d be hard-pressed to find a more complete goaltender. Before Price went down this past season he was showing that he was still in top form from his clean awards sweep — he won the Vezina, Hart and William M. Jennings Trophies, as well as the Ted Lindsay Award — from the 2014-15 campaign. In 12 outings, he was 10-2-0 with a 2.06 goals-against average, .934 SP and two shutouts.
But because of Price’s injury this past season, it’s hard to accurately compare Price to Crawford or Holtby using numbers from the 2015-16 campaign in making the case for Canada’s starter. Price didn’t play enough while both Crawford and Holtby were the clear-cut No. 1 guys on their respective teams. However, data from the past two seasons paints a clearer picture of why Price deserves the starting nod.
Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Price has spent 3,715 minutes at 5-on-5 patrolling the Montreal Canadiens’ crease. According to Puckalytics, there are 31 goaltenders who, like Price, have spent 3,500-plus minutes in goal over the past two seasons, but Price sits atop the list with a save percentage of .942. Holtby and Crawford are no slouches, to be sure, but their respective marks of .930 and .932 leave them trailing Price by a significant margin.
Of course, there’s a case to be made for Canada’s other two netminders beyond pure numbers. Holtby is coming off of a 48-victory, Vezina Trophy-winning campaign with the Washington Capitals and has been one of the most stellar goaltenders of the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Crawford posted seven shutouts this past season with the Chicago Blackhawks and has proven he knows what it takes to play in high-pressure situations with two Stanley Cups to his name. But Price has his own claim beyond his NHL numbers, and it’s equally, if not more, impressive.
At the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Price turned in what could be considered one of the greatest Olympic performances of all time. He allowed three goals against in five games — good for a mind-blowing 0.59 GAA — and boasted a .971 SP to go along with two shutouts. Canada rode Price’s performance to a second-straight Olympic gold.
Numbers give Price his first edge, but his experience and play on the biggest of international stages puts him over the top. He’s proven in long seasons and short tournaments to be almost inarguably the best goaltender in the world right now. And if Canada wants its best shot at taking home the World Cup title, Price will be the one skating out to start for Canada on the tournament’s opening night.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.