In just Antti Niemi’s second start with the Montreal Canadiens — his third team of the season — the skaters in front of him decided to give him a trial by fire, being unable to contain the speed of the Edmonton Oilers in the final game of a Western Canada trip on December 23.
The Finnish netminder saw 34 shots come his way from a team well outside the playoff picture. He was only able to stop 31 of them as his team lost the game, having his fifth start of the season be a fifth consecutive loss. But many of those shots were great scoring chances, and he turned aside a number of quality shots that could have made the score much more lopsided than the 4-1 final it actually was.
Two of his saves came on the same defensive breakdown, as neither Brett Lernout nor Joe Morrow was able to prevent Leon Draisaitl from getting in on the Habs netminder. After a rebound went directly back to the Oilers forward after his initial shot, Niemi stayed with the play, getting his left foot to the post just before the German could tuck it in on a second attempt.
Despite the result, the performance gave the goaltender some much-needed confidence, and let the team know what kind of battler they had claimed off waivers after Carey Price had gone down with injury.
Niemi’s next start in mid-January ended in his first victory of the season, and it started a 5-2-3 run for him as he was handed more time between the pipes.
His season stint with the Canadiens came to an end with him sporting a .929 save percentage; the first time he’d seen a number above .920 since the 2012-13 season. That performance in Edmonton may have played a pivotal role in him eventually being able to sign a contract extension, allowing him a chance to play in the NHL in the 2018-19 season that likely wasn’t coming his way after his play with his first two teams of the year.