Playoff Performers: King Carey Price And His Guards

Photo Courtesy: Steven Irwin aka Bats Naslund

Photo Courtesy: Steven Irwin aka Bats Naslund

Smell that smell.  That seasonally familiar scent in the air is the sweet fragrance of playoff hockey in Montreal; the regal land ruled by modern day king Carey Price and his loyal subjects  patrolling the blue line.  This is the time of year that Montreal and the rest of Canadiens country sees the players practice a little more intently, the microscope on each and every shift look a little closer and the fans cheer a little louder.  Pressure can turn coal into diamonds or diamonds into dust and the pressure is never greater than springtime in La Belle Province.

 

As the playoffs draw ever near, various looks shall be taken at those expected to be performing in the post-season and just how they are expected to do exactly that.  The foundation for such shall be built much the same way that a championship team is built: from the net first.

 

Carey Price

If he goes down, he is bringing everybody with him but there will be no blaze of glory.  How will the king of the crease be expected to follow up his potentially record setting and inevitably Hart and Vezina winning season? With a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe winning playoff run.  This is seemingly the annual expectation in Montreal and it has been as such for over a century.  The ideal has seldom looked so possible to become real in recent years.  The Mount Rushmore of Canadiens goaltending could include a variety of names such as Vezina, Worsley and a handful of others but undisputedly showcases the faces of three thus far: Plante, Dryden and Roy.  Should Carey end up the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner come June, he would be the first to do in franchise history since Roy himself.  Would this warrant him automatically being named the fourth horsemen of the three aforementioned? Many might be so inclined to say so.  Much less at this point would not likely be considered a success.

 

Dustin Tokarski

Lest we forget the little engine that could.  What could that little engine do, exactly? Little to overcome the narrative of playoffs from the year previous.

 

“If Carey Price hadn’t gone down, the Canadiens would have been in the finals.”

 

Now, naysayers of Tokarsi.  Numbers will largely be left behind in this feature but these ones are simply too enchanting to pass up.  How do they, in fact, compare in the 2014 playoffs?

 

Carey: 12 games played – 2.35 GAA – .919%

Dustin: 5 games played – 2.60 GAA – .916%

 

Say it ain’t so.  Albeit slightly fewer than half of the sample size, Dustin Tokarski was not, in fact, a vast drop off from Carey Price.  How much difference would Price have made in the remainder of that series? Even the goals Dustin allowed were not entirely contrary to Carey.  Recall the shot from approximately blue line range that hit a stick and dipped approximately five feet in the series against the Rangers.  Did Carey or did he not allow what was essentially an identical goal against, if memory serves, the Detroit Red Wings in that season?

 

If there was a factor at play here in which Carey Price’s absence left a void for this team in that series, it was simply mental and hardly something to consider when looking at the cold, hard numbers.  Perhaps a message should have been sent to the assailant Kreider.  Perhaps this year the dragon that so sought to lay siege to the kingdom will suffer by the hand of fate somewhere in the brackets of this tournament.

 

The moral here: If it happens again, refrain from sweating more than a bullet or two.

 

And on now to defencemen that are returning from the previous post-season.

 

P.K. Subban

How long will it be before he changes his name to Playoff Killer Spectacular? It is no small task for a defenceman to be the point leader of a team that took a deep run into the playoffs but P.K. Subban did exactly that.  Odds are, he aims to do exactly the same thing this year and would openly challenge any one of his teammates to try to catch him.

 

Lost somewhere in the hype of Carey Price is the conversation of P.K. Subban being a potential two-time Norris winner.  His $9,000,000 payday has seldom been mentioned throughout the course of the season but maybe it should be.  It seems as though the majority of player contracts are only brought up when it appears to be a disadvantageous number to their team and had P.K. uncharacteristically failed to live up to his worth, one would bet every cent of that $9,000,000 of this season’s cap hit that it would have been the top story in the Montreal hockey world on seemingly a daily basis.  It ought to be talked about.  It ought to be said that P.K. Subban is worth every shred of it and then some.

 

Perhaps the deserved statements will come up at the end of the playoffs when the world sees Subban do exactly what he did last year all over again: be the kind of player that makes himself the best candidate for captain through ferocious leadership, never taking a shift off, always being noticed and striking endless fear into the hearts of his opponents anytime his skates hit the ice.  He produces in fashions that are viewed as the standard mark to which his teammates are held to and that does not look to be changing anytime soon.  He is simply expected to be in an unending cycle of beast mode along every inch of the ice.  Period.

 

Andrei Markov

His window to ever winning a Stanley Cup draws ever smaller with age.  The Russian General has to be exactly that: general.  He is capable, on any given night, of turning the clock back a good five years or so and completely taking over a game from the back end.  He seems to be that bridge that covers any gaps between the other Canadiens on the ice and moves the puck to where it most needs to be.  Markov would be well advised in offensive zone shifts, namely on the power play, to do what always seemed to bring him success but is so rarely utilized anymore: make well advised pinches in rushing down the wing with the puck, looking for an open man somewhere near the slot or simply putting the puck on net and hoping that someone –maybe or maybe not named Brendan Gallagher — jams it in from there.

 

All Markov has to do in his own zone is be the Markov that makes a wise stick play, clears a rebound and stays in position.  The Markov that loses his man, gets turned around and fails to remember where he is supposed to be is a Markov that seldom shows up at this point of the season and should not be about to start doing so now.  He usually has a few surprises in store around post-season time and with much of the attention on Montreal’s blue line being given to P.K. Subban, Markov will find his openings and ought to be ready and willing to take advantage of every one of them.

 

Alexei Emelin

Jeepers.  When a player’s only hope or expectation is to be less of a nightmare than he typically is, the future looks bleak for said individual.  The wandering, pinching, irresponsible, unintelligent, tentative Emelin was at his worst from approximately November or so until the halfway point of the season.  If the return to the form of The Russian Wrecking Ball is not imminent, a more realistic hope or expectation can be put in place.

 

The key with Emelin is going to be managing his shifts and the goals therein.  Delegation is of the utmost importance in giving him a simple task to focus on, get it done and get back on the bench.  A prime example would be that if there were to be another series against the Boston Bruins that Emelin be told to go out and hit Lucic in order to sucker him into taking an inevitable, stupid penalty.  Simplicity is a strong suit when dealing with Emelin because where he always seems to go wrong is when he tries to handle two or three things at the same time; the result? Train wreck.

 

Keep it simple.

 

Nathan Beaulieu

Speaking of strong outings against the Boston Bruins…

 

This guy may not have been the most standout guy on the team last post-season but boy howdy did a young kid with a little bit of offensive flare do his part.  With many afraid that he would be run over, possibly injured and hindered in his development, Beaulieu not only held up but thrived by simply playing his game.  This season has seen Beaulieu develop a more diverse game and even drop the mitts on a few occasions.  The phrase “down goes Fraser” will not soon be forgotten as he floored Matt Fraser shortly after Dale Weise quickly disposed of Gregory Campbell.

 

Potential first round opponent Boston should not be looking for a rematch with the Canadiens for a multitude of reasons, Beaulieu is one of them.  Just as he showcased a strong jump in his play last year, he is expected to do the same this year.  After all, it may not be too many years before he is featured in the top pair alongside P.K. Subban; Beaulieu being the heir apparent to the throne that would be eventually vacated by Markov.  A strong showing this playoffs would help the process along quite comfortably.

 

Mike Weaver

Will he see the ice this post-season? Will he see the ice again for that matter? The Canadiens blue line depth continues to expand with the emergence of players like Greg Pateryn and the additions of the likes of Sergei Gonchar and Jeff Petry.  Bad enough for Weaver that so many defencemen are being added but also that so many of them play the right side that Tom Gilbert has been shuffled over to the left side.

 

In the event that he does get dressed, more of the same from last year would serve the man well.  His job is simple and he is in a market where his job is appreciated.  When he was brought on board, he was one of the grittier back end players this team had in spite of being under six feet tall.  Weaver, realistically speaking, is akin to being a cheaper Josh Gorges but plays fewer minutes.  This might explain how he managed to capture so many hearts across Montreal and why -if he is inserted into the lineup– his presence should be promising.

 

Will the team ideally go with him? Maybe not.  Subban, Petry and Pateryn seem to be an essential lock for the right side and they all play their position to justice; Subban being an indescribable superhuman, Petry being aware and versatile in his attack and Pateryn being ahead of schedule in his development is a deadly 1-2-3 combination.  It will likely take an injury (knock on wood) for Weaver to draw back in.

 

Other names and faces could fit the criteria here for returning players from previous post-seasons but simply playing the odds here of those currently on the main roster, these are the ones covered.  Should others (example: Tinordi) be called back up to the main roster during the playoffs or before the season’s end, they may be documented.  Until then, stay tuned for features on the returning forward counterparts of these defencemen and goaltenders as well as newcomers to the beast that is Montreal during the playoffs.

 

Special thanks to this guy for being our photographer of our feature image for this column.  Bats Naslund himself.

Bats

 

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