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Keith Kinkaid believes steady playing time will get his positioning, and his confidence, back

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The goaltender is already feeling the benefits of playing more consistently.

Philadelphia Flyers v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

While the Montreal Canadiens’ future is gaining first-team experience, part of the Canadiens present is still trying to return to form.

Goaltender Keith Kinkaid has now been with the Laval Rocket for nearly a week after clearing waivers. He’s made appearances in the Rocket’s last two games: a 5-2 loss to the Syracuse Crunch and a 4-3 win over the Springfield Thunderbirds.

“All it takes is game reps sometimes to feel good and get your game back,” Kinkaid said after Monday’s Rocket practice. “I think before I was kind of backing in and now I’m challenging shooters and feeling confident.”

Kinkaid, 30, was signed by the Canadiens this off-season to be a reliable backup to Carey Price. He’s been a backup goaltender throughout his National Hockey League career, but he’s produced serviceable numbers in the past. During the 2017-18 season with the New Jersey Devils, he had a career-high 26 victories in 41 games played, to go along with a .913 save percentage. It helped put the Devils in a playoff spot.

In the present day, Kinkaid hasn’t been reliable enough for the Habs and their playoff aspirations. The goalie is 1-1-3 in six appearances this season with a goals-against average of 4.24 and a save percentage of .875. While his statistics haven’t been favourable, Kinkaid also admits a lack of frequency hasn’t helped.

“When you’re not playing for two weeks, you’re trying not to make a mistake,” Kinkaid said. “I think that’s what I was doing. I wasn’t playing aggressive. I was playing not to let in a goal and unfortunately I let in a few goals.

“A little more games, a little more consistently—not [every] two weeks—is where I can show my ability and where I’m most confident,” he added.

Kinkaid’s last appearance for the Habs to date was an overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 30, in which he allowed four goals for the fourth time this season and prolonged the Canadiens’ winless streak. While he came on in relief for Carey Price four nights earlier during the team’s blowout loss to the Boston Bruins, Kinkaid was going a long time between games.

Days after the Flyers loss, Kinkaid was told to meet Habs coach Claude Julien for a “quick” conversation.

“He said he was going to put me on waivers,” he said. “They just wanted me to get games and get my confidence back.”

Kinkaid now finds himself in Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard’s goaltending rotation, alternating back and forth with goaltender Charlie Lindgren, who himself has a chip on his shoulder.

It got off to a rocky start for Kinkaid during Friday night’s encounter against Syracuse where he allowed four goals in the opening period of play. But he wasn’t at fault for all of the goals surrendered. He allowed a Gemel Smith goal 19 seconds into the contest, but Rocket defenceman Maxim Lamarche’s defending made it easier for a Ross Coulton pass to find Smith, leading to a goal.

Net-front traffic played a role in both the second and third goals allowed. Kinkaid couldn’t save a long-distance Cameron Gaunce goal. Boris Katchouk put the puck in an empty net after Kinkaid couldn’t find it, thanks to Crunch defenceman Daniel Walcott and Rocket captain Xavier Ouellet being in the way.

The fourth saw Cory Conacher complete a pretty passing play, resulting in Laval being buried in a hole that was too deep to come back from.

“I wouldn’t say he played bad at all. I think every single goal he couldn’t save was backdoors or tips. That was on us,” Rocket forward Jake Evans said. “I don’t think we were fully ready to play and we just made some mental errors. No goalie would’ve saved those.”

“First period didn’t go so well, obviously,” Kinkaid said. “I think we came out flat and then Syracuse — a really fast team just like Tampa — they capitalize on a few mistakes and then I think we really got our game there. I think we settled in after, including myself.

“Even during the third period of the Syracuse game. There was one moment where I felt I got my positioning back and I carried it to the next day.”

The second game of a back-to-back saw Lindgren start against the Thunderbirds, but an injury saw Kinkaid come on in relief. He allowed two of Springfield’s three goals, but was perfect in the game’s third period en route to victory.

“I wasn’t expecting to go in,” Kinkaid said. “Unfortunate for Charlie, but fortunately I got a win out of it. It felt really good.”

The unexpected appearance sort of messed with Bouchard’s scheduling for his goaltenders. So he’ll now have Lindgren start Tuesday night against Cleveland and Kinkaid Friday night against the Rochester Americans.

“It starts with working. He’s been in the NHL. He’s got experience. Now it’s to go back to work with [goalie coach] Marco Marciano,” Bouchard said. “There’s no reason why Kinkaid cannot perform with us. A few years ago, he was the reason why the New Jersey Devils got into the playoffs. Let’s call a spade a spade here.”

“He’s been great. He’s been positive,” Evans said. “Just happy to be here and happy to play. I mean it’s a tough situation, so he could’ve taken it two ways, but he’s taken a really good route.”