Carey Price’s injury, and its implications on the Montreal Canadiens’ Stanley Cup chances, was a major talking point Monday, even here on the off day in the Western Conference final as well.
During Sunday’s 3-1 win, the Los Angeles Kings had their own close call with a goaltender they couldn’t afford to lose, when Jonathan Quick was bowled over by the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews as he drove across the top of the goal crease. The goal was ultimately disallowed because of incidental contact and the great thing about Kings’ coach Darryl Sutter is that he isn’t going to change his assessment of the play the way the Montreal Canadiens’ Michel Therrien did.
The Price injury went from being an innocent to a reckless play in Therrien’s eyes and when the matter came up here, Blackhawks’ coach Joel Quenneville started off by saying even the coach figured it was an innocent play.
The problem with goalie interference calls is, as the Kings’ Justin Williams told me Monday, is that there’s a real grey area there. But Williams went on to say: “I think for the most part, as hockey players, we feel at the end of the day you’re going to get what you deserve. If you deserve to win that game, most likely you’re going to win it. If you don’t, you roll the dice, see what happens.”
That’s a mature outlook and it is one shared by a lot of the principals on this side of the NHL. Sutter, for one, is an unabashed supporter of Toews and so, when the question about Price’s injury came up, Sutter was just thankful that his own goaltender escaped serious injury.
The loss of a starter on the level of Quick, Price or the Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford can be incalculable at this time of year. It wasn’t that Dustin Tokarski played so badly for the Canadiens in Monday’s loss, it’s just that the guy at the other end of the ice, the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, was so much better. Goaltending is a factor in the game and when you get down to the final four, all-world is better than merely good enough. No one on Montreal’s side will ever blame Tokarski for the loss, but probably everyone would want to know how differently Game 2 would look if Price happened to be between the pipes.
“It’s such a fine line,” began Sutter. “If you look at the Montréal play, they’re both right. If you look at our play last night, they’re both right. One guy’s trying to score, which is what we try to do ever since we played the game, and the goalie’s trying to stop the puck, so...
“I’m just glad we’re not talking about that today because our goalie was hurt. Not that their Jonathan was trying to run into our Jonathan, just the point that our goalie wasn’t hurt.”
In the moment, Quenneville was upset that Toews’s goal didn’t count, but he acknowledged that it is hard for a team, any team, to have it both ways. As a coach, Quenneville wants his team to go hard to the net at one end of the ice and protect his goaltender vigorously at the other.
“We all know the line and the objective there,” said Quenneville. “But to say exactly how to prevent it, it’s something that can happen. It can happen to anybody.”
Sutter doesn’t believe that a coach’s challenge is the way to go. Interference on the goalie is not reviewable by the NHL’s hockey operations department in Toronto. The GMs have kicked around the concept of a coach’s challenge for a couple of years now, but there just hasn’t been enough momentum to adopt the change. Sutter doesn’t get a vote, but he believes it would be a mistake, on the grounds that the time needed to drop a flag and review a play would unnecessarily interrupt the flow of the game.
“Our game is not stop, start,” said Sutter, “It’s more on the fly. So the more that you pull those situations into it, the more it sort of spaces your game out.
“I’m not for that.”
When asked for a players’ perspective on the matter of driving the net, Williams made a revealing point: That NHL referees are talking to the players constantly on the ice, and making them aware of when they are pushing the limits.
“Whenever you’re near the net, there are always referees yelling at you,” said Williams. “If you’re in the blue paint, they say, ’Get out of it, get out of it.’ There are a lot of warnings out there, too. ‘Hey, I might not have counted that goal because you were obstructing him a little bit.’ You have to watch where you are. You have to watch where your feet are, and be aware of your surroundings. You don’t want to be that guy who has the obstructed goal taken back – because playoffs every goal and every play is important and has an impact on the series.”