When the Montreal Canadiens entered the second intermission tied 2-2 after taking an early 2-0 lead, it appeared that the game was headed in the wrong direction after Antti Niemi allowed two goals on seven shots.
But to his credit, Niemi bounced back. He only allowed one goal the rest of the way, making 23 saves. Whether or not Carey Price is out long term or not, the Canadiens need Niemi to be better - or they need to find a better option.
Niemi is 5-3-1 in his nine games this season despite having a goals against average of 4.01 and a save percentage of .877. In his nine starts, he has just one listed as a quality start. A quality start is where a goaltender’s save percentage in a game is higher than league average or 88.5% on nights they face less than 20 shots.
That’s simply not good enough. The good news is that Niemi has won the majority of his starts despite not playing well and last year is an indication that Niemi is able to turn things around. But if he’s not, the Canadiens may have to look elsewhere especially as they continue in the playoff race.
What complicates things is that Charlie Lindgren, the expected heir apparent to Niemi, is also injured leaving the Canadiens very thin in the goaltending department. The only two NHL-contracted goalies who are healthy are with the Canadiens right now.
Lindgren is expected to be back in the new year, and Price has played with the issue he’s currently resting so things should get better, but the Canadiens may need to look at potential options if they can’t count on Niemi to keep them in games. Luckily, Montreal has scored more than three goals in enough of Niemi’s starts to win the majority of them.
Like Price’s numbers earlier in the season, Niemi’s numbers aren’t solely on him, but maybe a stretch of consistent starts may be what he needs to get back on track.