Thursday, January 28, 2010

Price vs. Halak: By the numbers

While the media is masturbating to their manufactured or at the very least, greatly exaggerated rumour regarding the supposed verbal altercation between Andrei Markov and Carey Price, there hasn’t been a serious look into the numbers behind the Price/Halak goalie controversy. Sure there have been stats thrown around by supporters of each goaltender but nothing of any substance that might shed light on who should be the goalie of the future and by extension, who will become trade bait.

The one statistic that really stands out between Price & Halak has nothing to do with how well they stop the puck or the quality of the opposition. The key difference is how well the team plays in front of them and the offensive support, or lack thereof each receive. In 33 games this season, the Habs have scored a horrific average of 2.18 goals a game for Carey Price while he has faced an average of 31 shots per game. In stark contrast, Jaroslav Halak has received a whopping 3.04 goals of support in 23 games while facing an average of 33 shots. To prevent a distortion of the numbers, Halak’s late appearance in the October 7th game in Vancouver when he replaced Price and faced just 3 shots has been set aside.

In short, the Habs score an average of .86 goals a game more when Halak is in nets. Even though it’s safe to assume that average would drop had Halak played 11 more games to even out the sample size, I don’t believe it would be a dramatic change. Here’s a breakdown as of today:

Offensive support of Carey Price - 2.18

Shut Out: 4 Times
1 goal: 7 times
2 goals: 10 times
3 goals: 6 times
4 goals: 3 times
5 goals: 3 times
6 goals: 0 times

Offensive support of Jaroslav Halak - 3.04

Shut Out: 1 time
1 goal: 3 times
2 goals: 5 times
3 goals: 6 times
4 goals: 2 times
5 goals: 5 times
6 goals: 1 time

Supporters of each goaltender point to the quality of the opposition to explain the numbers with the general belief being that Halak has played against lesser opponents. This is mildly true. On average, the teams Jaroslav Halak has faced so far this season have 57 points on the season while opponents who face Carey Price average 60 points. Not enough of a difference in my opinion to explain the dramatic gap in offensive support between Halak & Price.

One thing is clear; the Montreal Canadiens don’t really have a problem with goaltending, not when you compare Carey Price to Steve Mason in Columbus. The real controversy is why the team scores .86 goals a game more, while surrendering more shots when Halak plays. Are they more confident with Halak behind them and as a result are more aggressive in the offensive zone? It appears that way. Still, they certainly aren’t tentative and more defensive when Carey Price backstops them, not if odd-man rushes and defensive zone turnovers are any indication.

Both Price and Halak are RFAs this summer so no matter what, the Canadiens can keep them both for another season should they choose so there isn’t really the same sense of urgency fans are feeling to resolve the situation now. What the Habs should and likely will do between now and the Olympic break is go with Halak for a stretch of games to see if the offensive support trend holds as the sample rate evens out between the two goalies. If that happens and Halak plays well at the Olympics against elite competition then I believe Halak will be offered that long term contract. If he agrees, Price will then become trade bait.

The only concern with that scenario may be Halak’s agent, Allan Walsh who in all likelihood wants Halak to play through to Free Agency and swing for the financial fences. If that's the signal they get, Price will be offered the long term contract instead and Halak would be traded.

Regardless of who the Habs pick as their goaltender going forward, they can’t trade the other without some certainty the other will sign long term. Not when their only other goaltending prospect is Cedrick Desjardins who's four and a half months older than Halak but has never played an NHL game. Until then, Gainey must see if the team can continue to score more goals for Halak than Price.

UPDATE - End of season stats

Offensive support of Carey Price - 2.28

Goal Support Games Record
0 4 0-4
1 8 0-8
2 13 3-10
3 6 3-3
4 4 3-1
5 3 2-0
6 1 1-0

Offensive support of Jaroslav Halak - 2.93

Goal Support Games Record
0 3 0-3
1 4 1-3
2 10 2-8
3 13 9-4
4 5 5-0
5 8 8-0
6 1 1-0