When Jake Allen was run down by Dylan Larkin late in the first period last night, the Red Wings player took full advantage of it by scoring two goals, including the game winner in overtime, against his replacement Samuel Montembeault. With the Canadiens on the powerplay late in the first, Allen was taken off the ice by the NHL concussion spotter at the game and, according to Dominique Ducharme, felt worse as time went on at the intermission. So Montembeault was asked to get in net to start the second period and finish the game.
We won’t get too much into the collision. Some take all blame away from Larkin as he was pushed by Jeff Petry. Others feel like he made no effort to avoid contact with the Canadiens’ goaltender. Personally, I’m in between. Petry definitely made Larkin off balance with his push from behind. What I didn’t like about what occurred next is how Larkin went in. Upon making contact, he clearly shoved Allen like a bodycheck, extending his arms in a follow-through. He could have simply protected himself instead. That part was, in my humble opinion, unnecessary and avoidable. TVA Sports reporter Marc-André Perreault raised a good question: had it been his own goalie, would Larkin have done the exact same?
Primeau called up
After the game, the Canadiens announced that they have recalled Cayden Primeau from the Laval Rocket. Based on this season, there’s no arguing as to which Laval goaltender should get the call up. Primeau has clearly outplayed McNiven so far.
But based on training camp, McNiven vastly outplayed any goaltender not named Jake Allen. He was very solid and many people thought that he had earned to stay in Montreal to be Allen’s backup. However, the Canadiens’ organisation decided otherwise when they claimed Montembeault off waivers from the Florida Panthers, stating that he had some NHL experience. He had 25 NHL games under his belt, with a 3.20 goals against average and a .892 saves percentage in those games.
Montembeault has been a disappointment so far this season. The Becancour, Quebec native has a 3.69 goals against average and a .885 saves percentage and it’s clear that the coaching staff doesn’t trust him. Allen is the busiest goaltender in the NHL, having played on the most games so far this season.
Shooting oneself in the foot
A few weeks ago, in an interview with Nicolas Landry, McNiven had a lot to say and he let it all out. In a lead up question, he was asked if it was difficult to move on from a difficult first game performance at the start to the season to get to his recent shutout. McNiven didn’t want to talk about his shutout. Instead, he lashed at the Rocket for his first start.
“OK, let’s talk about it. I was playing injured. I asked them to get me out of the game, the coaches left me in there and we allowed three goals. So before you say that I had a bad game, it wasn’t a bad game.”
McNiven explained that he suffered from cramps during the game, that he felt like he couldn’t continue after the first goal, but that his warnings weren’t taken seriously.
“I don’t know why they didn’t relieve me. I could barely move side to side at the time. I guess the coaches didn’t think it was that bad, in fact I’m hoping it’s the case. The trainer told me to stay in the game if I felt that I could and I said no. But I had been asking to come out for 10 minutes.”
In his second season with the Rocket, McNiven had better stats than Charlie Lindgren for a similar workload. But the following season, he’s the one who suffered the consequences with the arrival of Cayden Primeau. He dragged his hockey bag with three different ECHL teams and only had three games in Laval all season.
Jean-François Houle admitted that performance wasn’t the principal factor in selecting his starting goalie.
“Yes, it’s important to have a bit of merit in there but Cayden, we have to develop him as a goalie. It’s hard when the other one is doing well but it’s part of hockey. Of course, Cayden is an important prospect for the Montreal Canadiens and we will try to give him as much ice time as possible.”
Without being made aware of his coach’s quote, McNiven isn’t blind. He sees what’s going on.
“No one told me anything but we all have eyes. It’s easy to see. It’s always the same thing. Cayden is their guy. I must continue to work and do the best that I can but at the end of the day, it’s hard when we know that the dice are rigged. I signed here eight years ago and I’ve always been in the same position. Each time they gave me goals to reach, I’ve surpassed them, but they continue to send me at the back of the line. It’s just not how it works here.”
It is clear that if there was ever a future for McNiven in Montreal, or even in the organisation, that ship has sailed. Just like players don’t like when coaches or GMs go public when talking about specific issues with them, teams frown upon players who talk to the media and make them look bad in the process. That’s not just in Montreal.
There is little doubt that McNiven has a legitimate beef against the Canadiens’ organisation and if we’re being honest here, it’s hard to blame him for it. Where the young man went wrong is when he did it publicly. But who knows? Maybe he did try to talk to the organisation about it and this was his last resort. Let’s not forget that a player’s career is short and he wants to play in the NHL. But for that to happen, he needs to get a chance to do so.
Just this week, we saw former Habs’ first round pick Zachary Fucale get his first start in the NHL at age 26 with the Washington Capitals. And he earned a shutout against the Detroit Red Wings. The next day, he was sent down to the AHL. Like in any other business, politics plays a huge part in player-personnel. Hockey is no different that way.
I am convinced that McNiven will not get a call up or a chance in Montreal. Maybe he would have never gotten one anyway, but now that he has gone public, he nailed that coffin shut.