Being a back up goalie to Carey Price is not an easy task. Price is a workhorse and starts are few and far between in a role that is undefined at the best of times. Antti Niemi shone in that role last year, proving to many people his career wasn’t quite over yet. It wasn’t always pretty, but the results and numbers were there in many of his starts. When they weren’t, it was okay — he was just the back up and the team was near the bottom of the league.
This year is a bit of a different story. Niemi is proving to be consistent, however is consistently below average and it’s a tougher pill to swallow when he’s spelling Price more frequently. Over the course of his six starts this year, Niemi has one game over a .900 save percentage. While some games involve disastrous defence in front of him (same as Price), he has yet to even approach the form he had in net last year for the Canadiens. The team last year was a lottery team, with a mess of injuries. The team in front of Niemi this year is better than it’s predecessor, so one would imagine the struggles would be less.
Against the Oilers on Tuesday night, Niemi ranged from multiple “Save of the Year” candidates, to abysmal in net. He made a handful of jaw-dropping saves on Leon Draisaitl, but would allow some goals that simply shouldn’t be scored on an NHL goaltender.
The second clip came less than two minutes after the Canadiens had tied the game in the second period, and it should have been stopped. It’s hard to blame a goalie for two on one’s led by Connor McDavid resulting in goals, but this is one of those situations where the Canadiens needed their netminder to make a save.
We’ve seen Niemi play better than this in Montreal, and while Carey Price works to get his own game right, the Canadiens need Niemi to do the same. Is he going to be a sub-.900 goalie, or is he going to be a back up who can deliver a solid performance when called upon?
Montreal needs the good Antti Niemi to stand up.