MONTREAL – Looking at the banners and photographs commemorating past legends such as Georges Vezina, Bill Durnan, Jacques Plante and others around the Bell Centre, it is easy to see that the Montreal Canadiens franchise has been gifted with an abundance of extraordinary goaltenders through its history. Still, the team’s current netminders are performing at a level never-before seen in the franchise’s 104 years.
With the holiday season already underway and the last pre-Christmas home game played, current Habs goaltenders Carey Price and Peter Budaj have done what no Montreal goaltender since Patrick Roy have managed to accomplished in a Vezina-winning 1991-92 season: allow fewer than 80 goals in the first 36 games of the regular season. Indeed, 2013-14’s goal-against count of 76 is tied with 1975-76 and 1977-78 for the lowest total in Canadiens history.
Goals allowed after 36 games
Season Win% GA Goaltenders
2013-14 .577 76 Price/Budaj
1977-78 .750 76 Dryden/Larocque
1975-76 .778 76 Dryden/Larocque
1991-92 .639 78 Roy/Melanson
1976-77 .806 78 Dryden/Larocque
This is remarkable in itself, and puts Price and Budaj’s early-season heroics in the same rarefied sphere as the performances of Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy in their peak years. Indeed, the two retired netminders have brought the Vezina Trophy (given annually to the NHL’s best puck-stopper) back to Montreal every time they have started the season on such a prolonged hot streak. Dryden won it in 1976 and shared the honours with backup Michel Larocque the two following years, while Roy won it solo in 1992 after powering through a heavy 65-game regular season workload.
Still, there is an important point left to address: at the NHL level, it is hard for even the best goaltenders to consistently shut the door on opposing teams throughout an 82-game season. In 1991-92, after allowing 78 goals in his first 36 games (2.17 GAA), the goaltending duo led by Roy and supported by call-up Andre Racicot was beaten 129 times in the remaining 44 games (2.93 GAA).
The sharp increase in goals-against had little to do with a switch in backups. Indeed, the outgoing Melanson allowed 22 goals in nine games before Christmas, while Racicot allowed 23 in nine after the break. It had nothing to do either with a supposed decline in Roy’s level. After all, he did end up winning the Vezina the same summer, and the Stanley Cup the following June. Instead, it was most likely just the natural ebb and flow of luck, momentum and player injuries throughout a long NHL campaign. After a sizzling start even by his lofty standards, Roy simply regressed to a level more representative to his career numbers. Most tellingly: after only allowing four goals or more on only three occasions before Christmas (9%), Roy conceded four or more in a game twelve times in his remaining 35 appearances (34%).
All things considered, there is no doubt that Price and Budaj are getting the job done with gusto this season for the Canadiens. Whether their outlying success this season can be attributed to the fine work of the coaching staff, the diligent defensive play of their teammates, or to a helping hand from Lady Luck, it doesn’t change the nature of the goaltenders’ job: to keep calm, and just stop the puck.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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