Price Of The Web: How Will Carey Price And Shea Weber Play Together?

The wait is over.  The regular season debut of a new superstar tandem is upon us.  Carey Price is set to return and now, finally, comes an examination of just how they will function together.  It’s not often that a blockbuster move can be made and a team is given an idea of what will happen for them before the puck even drops on a new season.  Thanks to the World Cup, September saw a chance for Carey Price and Shea Weber to play meaningful hockey together before they do it for yet another squadron that can call itself Canada’s team.


The outstanding concern of the World Cup being a gimmick tournament was quickly wiped out by a game that Shea Weber and Carey Price would play in.  All involved in the first game between Canada and Team USA were quick to show that the sample size they were given was worth investing in.  International play and club play often bear stark contrasts but on NHL ice and in NHL cities, it felt like NHL action; intensity of two forms showcasing what the world was watching.


Stat sheets, analytics and anything in between will be placed on the bench for this one.  The eye test was on and both men look as though they may well have passed it.


The large portion of Shea Weber’s impression was made by means of positioning, awareness and physical presence.  For those that have been sleeping for the past decade or so, Shea Weber is by and large the prototypical defenceman of yesterday and today and he finds himself Montreal’s #1 defenceman today and likely for some stretch of tomorrow.  He, even without other additions or a few other particular teammates, erases a reputation that once plagued the Montreal Canadiens.  Responsible, steadfast and ever present.  Before taking a look at why he has already, by the admission of past opponents, struck fear into their hearts more so than any other player in the league, a quick look will be taken at just why Carey Price may do the exact same once again.


Photo: Bruce Bennett (Getty Images)

Photo: Bruce Bennett (Getty Images)


Carey Price did not exactly wade in from the shallow end of the pool and test the waters.  His first test came off a Dustin Byfuglien shot through numerous bodies and traffic but his vision was locked in, in spite of all obstacles.  Facing deceptive point shots and tricky angles, Carey’s vision and rebound control were tested early and often with nothing weak overtly outstanding.  His promptness in covering pucks off of rebounds has not lost a split second, nor has his ability to move the puck; some players recently noted Carey’s ability to move the puck better than some defencemen.  It has often been said that no goalie is truly a skilled, proficient puck mover but by the testimony of his peers, Carey Price makes the bar.


That is not to say that Carey Price was without error throughout the tournament.  A Joe Pavelski goal certainly proved to be one that Price would want back.  His vision, while often locked in, was not without a lapse as he was unable to see past multiple bodies directly in the middle of the slot while Zach Parise scored in the midst of Drew Doughty losing a net battle.  The tandem of Alex Pietrangelo and Brent Burns would fail Carey on a couple of instances but after allowing a tight angle goal scored by Patrick Kane, the most important thing therein is that Carey was quick to correct that mistake, denying him on a repeat chance from the same spot.


The most critical observation was that Carey Price showed absolutely no weakness in his lateral movement while in the butterfly, strong enough to get over and stop a great chance for Alex Ovechkin.  Any injury –namely to a superstar player– will keep any observer on tilt but it was a quick eliminator of concern.  Between this and facing a bit of physicality from Team Russia but coming out fine, there look to be absolutely zero lower body injuries lingering with Price.


Carey’s glove –as well as the rest of himself– would gradually simmer down as the tournament progressed, the usually calm Price making anxious glove movements to keep in time with the chances against.  At first he dropped a save or two that he would usually have a complete grasp of but the time spent in the World Cup of Hockey would prove valuable to him in ironing out this particular wrinkle.  Moreover, Price looked exponentially sharper once the exhibition games were over and the tournament action got underway.  In spite of his notorious tranquil demeanor, Carey became more alert and responsive as the games became more meaningful.


His angles and movement were continuously tested, most notably by plays like tight chances from Patrick Kane and a strong cut to the front of the net by Evgeni Malkin but he stared world elite challengers in the face and denied them without hesitation.  The only time Carey showed any kind of rust going forwards was after he had not faced a shot for in excess of ten minutes as he got beat by a riser on the high blocker side, perhaps more accustomed to a taller task in facing far more frequent shots throughout the regular season.


The Takeaway: Carey Price does not come without concern but largely speaking, they are nothing all too extraordinary.  He should be every bit as competitive as he was before and as his new teammate is examined here now, a few reasons for this should come to the forefront.


Photo: Marc DesRosiers (USA Today Sports)

Photo: Marc DesRosiers (USA Today Sports)


The lesser known of the two to this organization.  He has quickly familiarized himself with spectators across the Canadiens map but the sample size is still a small one yet.  Much of his game analysis comes from an area that should minimize any potential concerns with his skating: positioning and awareness.  Weber does stack up high at the blue line while opponents are in the neutral zone but only because leaving a physical presence any farther back in his own zone allows the opposition’s zone entry far too easily if he sits back.  His puck pursuit near the boards is often aggressive, doing a share of his physical handiwork in said situations but the personal touch he puts on his game is that he will trail off towards the end of a 50/50 puck pursuit, almost suckering his opponents in, letting them think that they have it before inevitably pushing them into the exact spot that he wants them to be in before engaging in physical battle.


If the game speeds up, he will not chase.  He will maintain his position on the right corner of the low slot and maintain awareness as the play breaks down.  He does well to leave himself not getting caught behind the forwards, always beginning his back skate in front of them, again a spot from which he can allow his brain and vision to do more work and take a load off of his feet before retreating to the middle/low slot.  While facing an odd man rush against, Weber prefers to completely neutralize one threat as opposed to only slightly downplaying all threats around him but leaving all of them still active; he will often opt to eliminate the pass, namely if the cutter is coming down his right side.  He was faced with a number of nifty east-west sequences and would come up with tremendous shot blocks, showcasing his defensive awareness at seemingly every turn.


In spite of being strong and sound in position, Shea Weber will adjust on the fly against even the most dynamic of threats and find success.  Where the first of so few times that the opposition would find success was when he was forced to eliminate the closest threat with physical dominance as a result of Ryan Getzlaf missing his assignment, Weber compensating for said position.  The only time he tends to truly roam is at 3-on-3; how this may shape up in overtime throughout the season remains to be seen but some cause for concern may well come about at some turn or another.


While Shea’s aggression and pursuit tends to happen in tight spaces, if he sees numbers along the boards, he will often wait for insurance purposes in a high danger area, letting his teammates do their thing as he hopes that the puck will be moved out towards him.  On the kill he is able to play either side with seemingly the same comfort and ease but he will never go out wider than the hash marks, not daring to push things or to engage in a chase.  If he does allow anyone to skate past him in the defensive zone, he will only do so when they have zero angle at any hypothetical shot left.  His positional awareness, vision in his own zone and –upon puck retrieval– clearances on the penalty kill were all superior to that of his teammates, namely Drew Doughty who suffered by comparison.


Weber would be caught pinching once when an odd bounce off the boards gave him trouble and he ended up too far to the outside which could have lead to a disastrous breakaway but Vlasic had him covered to perfection and allowed him to regain the extra step or two back.  The conclusion herein is that Nathan Beaulieu would be best to be his continued partner over Andrei Markov.  Weber needs, by and large, one thing over anything of his partner: to be as fleet of foot as they can be and though Markov holds up pretty well for a guy with knees held together by chewing gum and safety pins, he is simply insufficient for an option as Shea Weber’s defensive partner at even strength, on the penalty kill and likely even the power play for that matter.


What Weber brings to the table outside of this, in a more renowned and yet less definitive manner, is the true bearing and barometer of his value.


When Team Canada was quick to give up two goals against, neither of which he was on the ice for, the response came without hesitation.  Weber quickly assumed momentum, derailing Team USA’s by wasting no time in laying out Brandon Dubinsky.  Upon taking a dirty hit from one of the pacific division’s favorite resident scumbags Ryan Kesler, Shea Weber was completely responsive and had Jonathan Toews not gotten to him first, Ryan Kesler would have made medical history; and he did suffer the consequences at a number of turns later on.


While Shea at times did not exactly receive the number of minutes that he deserved, he did show up and look strong when the rest of the team itself looked less than desirable and the shifts that he did get were usually the most critical of the game.  The mark of undisputed leadership showed in his game across the board and left no questions unanswered with not just a will to win but perhaps moreover a hatred of losing.  It may have been for this reason that as the tournament progressed, Shea was constantly deployed for the opening shift of the most important games; these opening shifts leading to him setting the tone by overpowering players even the likes of Blake Wheeler.


With the idea following a goal against being to respond with your iron, Weber’s deployment showed that he was –in fact– just that as on the odd occasion that Canada would allow a goal against, he took every shift following thereafter, though his shifts were often short and usually followed by the immediate redeployment of Drew Doughty.  Following any given goal against, he would typically follow up with at least one shot on goal himself, let alone what the rest of the team would contribute thereafter.


Just how far will Shea Weber go for his team? The best illustration may be that he exchanged how-do-ya-dos with Max Pacioretty but did so in a tactful manner, not pushing things to unnecessary lengths but certainly letting Max know who the boss was.  His physical imposition was showcased clearly, intimidating even the highest level of opposition and the otherwise biggest and most physical.  The notions are true: Shea Weber is the most intimidating player to oppose in the entire league.


Play initiation is not Weber’s forte but he does so in a manner that is largely fitting to his game.  He does not force anything but rather will play the puck around his own end boards, later come to possession and then find a successful exit from his zone.  Analytics people may be quick to criticize at times that his exits are marginal in completion or execution and while some truth may bear from that at times, their numbers are bottom line type of numbers and he is a bottom line type of player; his exits will usually succeed in these circumstances and with the proper calibre of player in front of him, no harm done.  The most necessary thing being that the forward ahead of him be already in motion.


There is one area in which Shea can afford to adjust his game.  He will usually come in very tight for passes from Price.  Knowing the level of Carey’s puck movement, Shea can most definitely afford to stretch out just a bit farther ahead and let his netminder do his thing.


Offensively speaking, Weber’s power play pursuit is passive.  Early in the tournament he created chances on it but left something to be desired which has since largely been ironed out.  As opposed to attempting to force his shot through traffic, he will make wise bank passes outside of occupied lanes while being outmanned.  If he looks like he is sitting back, almost lounging, at the point, he is likely doing his best thinking and looking to make his most opportunistic move.  On the man advantage, namely at 5-on-3, he will remain passive but yet engaged as he prioritizes vision over his shot and will make strong cross-ice passes.  He does look even more engaged in Kirk Muller’s power play system but that is also likely because everyone in Team Canada’s power play was seemingly instructed to play it passively and wait out their chances.


Considering his style, Weber will reap greater benefits in Muller’s system.


The most important thing to remember with Weber on the power play is that while his shot is his most tantalizing tool, his lateral passes are often timely, overlooked and undoubtedly the correct one to make as they seemingly always lead to a chance for.  The only time Weber’s power play utilization suffered was during deployment with Drew Doughty who selfishly insisted on taking every chance himself while superior options were available.


The big concern addressed: speed.


Make no mistake, if given his opening, Weber will make his move.  When a penalty kill rush chance comes about, he will jump and be every bit as fast as a larger forward such as Ryan Getzlaf, showing zero difficulty in maintaining pace with him.  His shot will come as low as the hash marks and he will likely look five hole but yes, he could benefit from making even just one little move on these chances.


The Big Takeaway… and most important thing to remember: Weber essentially does everything that Carey Price needs him to.  This does absolutely look like a match made in heaven, if for no other reason than the one read between the lines.  Shea Weber is the best shooting lane disruptor in the league today and he automatically covers Carey Price’s only perceivable weak point – the low blocker.  Their functionality together needs nothing more than perhaps some very, very fine tuning but bears no outstanding flaws.  This duo, no question, is the most fearsome tag team in the National Hockey League today.


Starting with a game against the Arizona Coyotes, it all begins now.


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