At this time last year, Carey Price had faced 258 shots at even strength over the course of 10 games, blocking 251 of them for a .973 save percentage. All was well in the land of the Montreal Canadiens.
As of Monday, Price has faced 253 shots at even strength over the course of 11 games this season. The difference, as we all know, is that he's only blocked 222 of them for a save percentage of .877.
What the heck is going on with this consensus first-round fantasy goaltender?
In very similar sample sizes from last season to this season, Price only allowed seven goals in 2016 but has allowed 31 so far this season. Rostering him so far this season is even worse than if you had simply said "pass" on your first-round pick in drafts.
In the meantime, Charlie Lindgren, a 23-year-old with three previous games of NHL experience, has stepped in for the past four games as Price hit the injured reserve with a non-specific lower-body injury. Lindgren has proceeded to stop 114 of 117 pucks thrown his way at even strength and boasts an overall save percentage of .964. More importantly for the Habs and their fans, he's managed three wins in those four games -- equal to Price in his 11 starts.
Yes, what we have here is a perfect storm to trade for Price.
As fantasy players, we have to rely on what we know. So what do we know about Carey Price? Even including this season's horrible statistics, he still has the best save percentage in the NHL over the past four regular seasons combined (minimum 50 starts); he had that much of a head start. Even though he missed the majority of the 2015-16 season with injury, he's still in the top 10 for wins during the past four seasons; he's just been that good. Really, combining the last four seasons, only Braden Holtby and Devan Dubnyk can hold a candle to Price's numbers when you combine the big-three fantasy categories: wins, save percentage and goals-against average.
While a decline in goaltender statistics is expected as players age into their 30s, it is very rarely precipitous. The wheels don't usually just fall off. Now 30 years old, we can comfortably know that Price's best years are behind him. There have only been five seasons in NHL history with a goaltender older than 30 to manage a .930 save percentage over 50 or more games (Dominik Hasek three times and Tim Thomas twice). But this decline for Price is way too much, way too fast, to be anything but a hiccup or injury related. Both of those factors should be taken off the table by his injured reserve stint.
Fantasy players should have some faith in Price's talent and invest. Lindgren is not going to cause a goaltending controversy when Price returns from his injury.
First off, Lindgren's statistics are unsustainable. His .974 even-strength save percentage is going to get destroyed if he continues to start games. Not to mention, Lindgren has a .947 save percentage on the penalty kill, which is way above where it should be (.870 to .890 is usually the range for most goalies). With some regression coming in both those numbers, he would be exposed sooner than later.
If anything, Lindgren has given us more reason to invest in Price. If the Canadiens can play well enough in front of this 23-year-old rookie to allow him solid goaltending statistics, then surely they can do it in front of Price, too.
Price was moved to injured reserve over the weekend, but not because he had a setback. The Habs moved him because Al Montoya also suffered an injury and they needed to bring up their fourth-string goaltender to back up Lindgren. Price was skating in full equipment last week (though not practicing with teammates) and could return to the ice sooner rather than later.
Now is the time to strike against the fantasy player in your league with Price on his roster. Price is injured and has horrific stats, while Lindgren hype is at a fever pitch.
Players on the move
Back in action following a six-game layoff due to a lower-body injury, Palmieri resumed his role on the top line with Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier for the past three contests. He collected his fourth goal of the season (eighth point in 10 total games) and fired 11 shots on goal. Palmieri is rostered in only 69.2 percent of ESPN leagues, which is far too low for a top-line winger with a propensity to take lots of shots on goal. Even with the missed time, Palmieri is on pace for his typical 30-goal season.
Back in action now for seven games, Vatanen's ice time has edged up to where it should be during the past few contests (22-minutes-per-game range). More important, he kept his role on the first power-play unit despite the solid showing from Brandon Montour during Vatanen's early-season absence. But hold the phone: Montour and Vatanen are actually quarterbacking the power play together. On the top unit with Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg (until Ryan Getzlaf's face is healed), the duo on defense make a nice combination. Montour's gift for offense fits well with Vatanen's penchant for puck distribution. Both players could work together for fantasy value this season, especially once Getzlaf returns to the Ducks' power play. Vatanen is rostered in only 15.2 percent of ESPN leagues.
It looks like the threat posed by Charlie McAvoy and a slow start by Krug are things of the past. After a spell where he didn't take very many shots on goal and wasn't getting involved in the offense as much, Krug is back to his dynamic self again during the past seven games. In that stretch, he's managed nine of his 11 points this season, while firing 21 of his 29 shots on goal this season. His ice time has also started cresting past 22 minutes and touching 27 minutes during that stretch. While McAvoy is still getting significant minutes, it's clear he needs a Krug-less roster to make an offensive impact.
Even allowing six goals on Sunday to the New Jersey Devils, Crawford still has some regression to his ratios headed his way. His .921 save percentage on the penalty kill won't hold water for much longer and could spell his slip from among the top-five fantasy goaltenders to closer to the top 10. His save percentage on the penalty kill for the past two seasons combined sits at .869, which is more in line with where it's expected to be over a larger sample size.
Samuel Girard played more than 20 minutes in each of his first two games with the Colorado Avalanche during the Sweden series against the Ottawa Senators. If he's going to be getting that many minutes on the top pairing with Tyson Barrie, expect a fantasy impact. ... After rolling most of the season with a stacked top line, the Dallas Stars have separated Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin of late. One beneficiary is Gemel Smith, who replaced Seguin on the de facto top line with Benn and Alexander Radulov. ... Jesse Puljujarvi is up from the AHL with the Edmonton Oilers. He played his first two games on the second line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic. There is potential here, but the Connor McDavid line needs to be a much bigger threat than it is right now to open things up for the secondary scoring. ... Mitch Marner found himself with some top-six minutes in the past two games due to Auston Matthews' current upper-body injury. And Marner took advantage of his chance to be on a scoring line by tucking in four points. Is he out of the doghouse for when Matthews returns? We'll have to see. His rostered percentage has slipped to 85 percent, so be ready to pounce if he sticks on a scoring line when everyone is healthy again. ... Maybe Brent Burns just misses his usual defense partner? If that is a factor in Burns' slow start to the season, look for improvement in the near future. Paul Martin is on the verge of a return. Burns played 79 percent of his even-strength minutes on the ice with Martin last season.