If anyone is looking for yet another indicator of how this season has gone for the Montreal Canadiens, then look no further than Charlie Lindgren. When he skates out onto the ice for his professional hockey debut on Thursday night against Carolina, he will become the fifth goalie used in a game this season by the Habs. This ties the franchise record for most goalies used in a single season.
If there was any position that exuded stability at the start of the season, it was that of the starting goaltender. Carey Price was coming off of a highly-decorated season that saw him win nearly every award a goaltender can possibly win. He is widely considered the best goaltender in the world, so it seemed there was nothing to worry about between the pipes.
A slight surprise came prior to the season, as Mike Condon supplanted Dustin Tokarski as the backup goaltender behind Price. That said, the battle of the backups was not much of a concern for most, as Price was the man expected to handle the lion's share of action on the season.
But things escalated quickly.
A mere nine games into the season, Carey Price suffered an injury to his right leg against the Edmonton Oilers. He returned briefly in November, claiming a full return to health, but in his third game back it became obvious that everything was not well.
So the Canadiens put their faith in NHL rookie Mike Condon as regent to the crease while Price was evaluated, and he certainly earned the team's trust early on. Tokarski returned from his brief exile to St. John's to back him up, but things quickly spun off the rails for the Canadiens in December. That tandem was unable to steal any games for the Canadiens, as momentum gathered for a historic collapse.
Tokarski was sent down to the AHL for a brief conditioning stint, while rookie goaltender Zachary Fucale got his first NHL call-up. As Fucale did not see any game action during his week in the NHL, he does not count against the list of goalies used this season.
Bergevin finally acted in January to upgrade the position, acquiring reclamation project Ben Scrivens from the Edmonton Oilers after he spent the entirety of the season in the AHL. There were even some rumours that Bergevin was interested in James Reimer from the Maple Leafs, but ultimately nothing came of it.
With Price's prognosis constantly up in the air, Bergevin did the best he could under the circumstances. Scrivens became the fourth goalie to be used by the Canadiens, while Tokarski was sent back to St. John's and eventually traded. Scrivens experienced difficulties of his own, save for one solid streak at the beginning of February which momentarily gave the team life, and the fan base hope, but that too was short-lived.
In late March the Canadiens signed highly-touted NCAA free agent Charlie Lindgren to a two year entry-level deal. In order to sway him to join, they allowed him to immediately join the team, which meant that Ben Scrivens had to be returned to the AHL.
And so Lindgren will be the fifth goaltender to be used during a game this season. This is the fourth time that this infamous statistic has been achieved in the history of the Canadiens franchise.
The last time was during the 2001-02 season, when Jose Theodore was the undisputed best player in the League, dragging the Canadiens to the second round of the playoffs and winning the Hart and Vezina trophies along the way.
That season the backup position fluctuated greatly, as Jeff Hackett dealt with a shoulder injury that haunted him throughout the season. A host of other backups tried to fill in the void, starting with rookie goaltender Mathieu Garon, then minor leaguer Olivier Michaud, and finally veteran Stéphane Fiset, who was traded to Montreal by the Los Angeles Kings for future considerations in late March.
Prior to that was the infamous season of 1995-96, which was of course marked by the departure of Patrick Roy. Jocelyn Thibault was obtained to replace Roy in one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. Roy went on to win two Stanley Cups with the Colorado Avalanche, while the Canadiens descended into an era of mediocrity.
Pat Jablonski oversaw the transition from Roy to Thibault as the backup goaltender, and had to pick up a lot of slack after the trade to help out an overwhelmed Thibault. Additionally making appearances in net for the Canadiens that season were career minor-leaguer Patrick Labrecque, and a rookie Jose Theodore making his NHL debut.
The first instance of five goalies being used in club history was only two seasons before, in 1993-94. This season featured Patrick Roy coming off of a stunning Stanley Cup win, and a revolving door of backups to support him. This included incumbent backup Andre Racicot, Ron Tugnutt who arrived from Anaheim for Stephan Lebeau during the season, and minor leaguers Les Kuntar and Frederic Chabot.
Stability is expected to return next season to the Canadiens' crease, but the spectre of this season's injuries, and the ensuing goaltending carousel, will leave a mark for a long time to come.