It isn’t an easy life being a goalie on recall in the American Hockey League. You could play every other game due to various circumstances, or you could ride the pine for a week before returning to your ECHL club. For Connor LaCouvee he was the former this year, becoming a stable presence in net when Charlie Lindgren went down with a lower-body injury in the middle of the season.
It was almost a season that wasn’t for LaCouvee. He was called up from the Maine Mariners and couldn’t make it to the arena in time for the first game. He was able to join the team the next day, and went on to be a surprising find between the pipes.
He played only 14 games for Laval, going 7-5-2 with a 2.49 goals-against average, and .913 save percentage; an impressive showing on a team bereft of its top stars for much of the year. He wasn’t exactly given an easy first game either, being tossed onto the ice against the best team in the AHL, the Charlotte Checkers. He came out with a save-of-the-year candidate, and a 22-save victory. From there, it would take him six starts before he finally lost in regulation: a loss to the Toronto Marlies where LaCouvee surrendered just one goal.
His strong play through January and the start of February earned him a full AHL contract for the rest of the season, allowing Montreal to keep him in the fold at the minor-league level. He was sent back to the ECHL when Lindgren returned to the Rocket from his injury, but would rejoin them in late March when Lindgren was sent to Montreal to ease the workload on Carey Price.
While his numbers took a hit at the end of the year, it’s not without reason. The team was made up of ECHL call-ups and a mishmash of lines at the end. Yet, every night, LaCouvee went out and was a solid force in net, who didn’t get the defensive or goal support he needed to come away with victories.
Looking at his overall performance, LaCouvee has more than earned a role in the Montreal Canadiens organization, but it’s not an easy place to land a goaltending job right now.
Cayden Primeau has joined the professional ranks, while Michael McNiven took a huge step forward after his rookie season. There’s also Lindgren who likely has the inside track to the NHL backup job next year. However, the hope is that the Canadiens will lock down their own ECHL affiliation for next year, and signing LaCouvee to another AHL deal gives them a safety net in the case of injuries and a trustworthy option to backstop their third-tier assets.
Overall, there isn’t much to be disappointed with in LaCouvee’s season for the Rocket, even in his small amount of starts. He was never the issue in losses, keeping his movements simple and clean to make saves, and rarely allowing bad rebounds. At a rough point in the season for the Rocket, his ability to provide consistent performances helped spark the team to some wins that pushed them to at least the fringes of the playoffs.
It is up to the Canadiens to keep the young netminder in the fold next year. They’ll need to find a place for him and the other young goalies to get regular starts, but ome quality goaltending depth at all three levels would be something Montreal hasn’t seen in a long time.
All in all, for someone originally brought in as a short-term injury replacement, Connor LaCouvee made the most of his chance, and may have given his young career a huge boost.