With Carey Price out, it was Jake Allen’s net to defend. With Allen out with a concussion and Price not ready to come back, it’s up in the air. Right now, the two masked men on the Montreal Canadiens’ roster are waiver pick up Samuel Montembeault and call up top prospect Cayden Primeau. Montembeault did okay in a 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Sunday, stopping 35 shots. But Primeau was outstanding in the Canadiens’ defeat in New York last night. The battle is on.
Primeau stopped 31 of the 34 shots that he faced but the Rangers dominated in quality scoring chances in that game. He made many key saves in all three periods when his team crumbled time and time again. He looked sharp. He looked confident and in control… for the most part. He inspired confidence and that’s what you want from your goaltender. His rebound control, while not always perfect, was very, very good and that helps the defense immensely.
Isn’t it kind of funny to see the fanbase divided on who they like between the two? Like it has to be one or the other. Again, being right or wrong is what seems to count to some. But it’s hard to understand why that need even exists. Both netminders belong to the team they cheer for so ultimately, shouldn’t everyone want them to perform at their best?
This doesn’t prevent us from liking one more than the other, but trying to remain unbiased is key. I will do my best to do that for you, coming from someone who spent about 15 years playing goal.
Standing at 6-foot 3-inches and weighing at 199 lbs, Montembeault has good size for a goalie. He is quite athletic and moves fairly well in his net. The 25 year-old is often square to the shooter and most times, his timing is good when going down on his knees. His biggest strength is, in my opinion, his compete level and never give up mentality. He’s a fighter out there and will try to stop every puck, even when out of position.
I see two major issues in his game, however, and those are what has cost him from getting a regular backup role in the NHL thus far. The first one is his rebound control. Sometimes, even on what appears to be easy shots, the puck will bounce out from his body and he is below average when it comes to freezing the puck. Shots bounce off his chest instead of being smothered. When getting shots on the blocker or in the pads, instead of keeping them close to freeze pucks, he kicks them out in dangerous areas, most notably in front of the net instead of towards the boards. This is tough on the defense as it creates second and third scoring chances.
His second major flaw is that even when he has good games, like the one he had in Boston, he has had a tendency to allow a bad goal in almost every game. So even when his overall performance is good, a stinker of a goal will cost his team.
The Canadiens’ top prospect in goal is basically the same size as Montembeault. The 6-foot 3-inches son of former NHLer Keith Primeau weights in at 203 lbs. The reason why the Habs didn’t keep him in Montreal after Carey Price went on the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program was that they want him to play regularly, something he wouldn’t have done behind Allen at the NHL level.
Primeau, who just turned 22 in August, has the ability to shut the door with aplomb, since he is both technically sound and an athletic netminder who can make the spectacular save when required. He tracks the puck extremely well and his rebound control has improved from last year and is already very good for such a young goaltender. His pedigree so far is off the charts.
But he’s not perfect… yet. Like many young goaltenders, he tends to try to do too much at times, by being too aggressive. That can prove costly at the NHL level, with the passing skills of the best players in the world. While the goal wasn’t his fault, we saw a bit of that on the Rangers’ first goal last night (although Nick Suzuki completely missed his coverage). He is working on understanding that pucks will all eventually all find their way to the net and finding a balance between cutting angles and being caught out of position is an important skills set at the NHL level. He also needs to find consistency in his play at the professional level, something he’s starting to do in Laval, but will have to continue working on that aspect in Montreal. With youth comes inconsistency.
When Allen and Price are back
During Monday night’s show on Habs Tonight, I was asked what I think will happen when Allen and Price are ready to come back. When Jake Allen returns from his concussion, I believe that Primeau will be sent back to the Rocket in Laval regardless of how he performs from now until then. It will be for the same reason as a few weeks ago: he must play regularly. So Montembeault will be drawing NHL salary a bit longer, at least until Price is ready.
When Carey Price returns to the line-up, Montembeault will obviously be placed on waivers. Unless teams are desperate for warm bodies in goal at the NHL level, he should clear waivers and that’s when it becomes interesting. The Canadiens already have Primeau and Michael McNiven in Laval and it’s unlikely that they’ll want another ménage-à-trois in the AHL. We know that Primeau isn’t going anywhere so it will play out between McNiven and Montembeault. Because he came out and criticized the organisation publicly, I believe that Montembeault will be Primeau’s backup while McNiven will either be sent down to Trois-Rivière in the ECHL, or he will be traded or loaned to another minor league team.
In the meantime, let’s try to enjoy the ride and see where the organisation’s goaltenders can do by ensuring that we don’t put unrealistic expectations on them. That defensive core is not good at all so miracles from the goaltenders will be few and far between. The team isn’t going anywhere this year, and losses will continue to be piling up faster than the win column. It up to us to focus on the positive and the development of some young players, as well as the prospect of some good draft picks, as some things we can look forward to.