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Carey Price will hope the backup dilemma is finally solved

So close, yet so far. Would the Canadiens have made it to the playoffs if team had had a better backup netminder?

Florida Panthers v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

The minute Carey Price signed his eight-year contract extension for $84 million in 2017, there was more pressure than usual laid upon his shoulders. The deal kicked in to start the 2018-19 season, and as soon as he lost a game, it was ‘off with his head.’ Granted, that game ended up being the first game of the season, so that wasn’t a great start.

In the 66 games (35-24-6) he suited up for, Price came away with a 2.49 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage, and four shutouts. His backup, Antti Niemi, helped out for 17 games (8-6-2) and finished the season with a 3.78 GAA and .887 Sv%.

In case you skimmed over it, that was 66 games (64 of them starts) Price had to play, matching his career high, in order to give his team a fighting chance. The only other goaltender who played more games than Price was Devan Dubnyk (67) of the Minnesota Wild and look how that worked out for them. Finishing 21st in the standings isn’t exactly ideal.

Price played 28 of the last 29 games of the season. The last time Niemi got between the pipes was on March 7, and that ended in a 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks. After that, Price was on his own for the push to the playoffs, only for his team to miss its chance at the final Eastern Conference spot by a measly two points. Once they knew it was over, Niemi didn’t even get the start in the season finale. Charlie Lindgren got the call to finish up the season against the Leafs.

When the season ended and Niemi went off to play in the KHL, Marc Bergevin began his search for the next backup goaltender (let’s be honest, he was already looking). He landed on 30-year-old Keith Kinkaid formerly of the New Jersey Devils (and a brief period spent on the Columbus Blue Jackets’ bench), signing him to a one-year, $1.75-million contract on the first day of free agency.

While Kinkaid’s 2018-19 stats are not swoon-worthy, posting a 15-18-6 record with a 3.36 goals-against average and a .891 save percentage, the consensus (before and games have been played, anyway) is that he’ll be able to help lighten Price’s load this season. The hope is that the previous season was just an aberration in an otherwise steady career.

Just days before free agency, Price stated, “I don’t really want to be a mentor at this point. I want a guy that I can work with.” While this doesn’t bode well for the up-and-comers in the prospect pool, hopefully Kinkaid can be that low-maintenance guy.

While Price may not have been able to drag his team to the playoffs last season, he did have a pretty special year of his own, hitting three major milestones. On October 27, 2018 he surpassed Patrick Roy in wins. Two months later, he hit the 300 games won mark, which is no small feat. And just before the season started to wrap up, on March 12 Price became the winningest goaltender in Montreal Canadiens history after passing Jacques Plante.

You can’t tell me that a goalie who hits this many milestones — in one season — couldn’t make it to the playoffs if he had a proper backup. And a good team in front of him, of course; dude can’t do it all.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Price wasn’t the goalie superhero of 2014-15. No, he wasn’t. But as exciting as that season was, it’s obviously not the norm, so let’s just remember it fondly and move on. If we’re going to compare him to Superhero Price, then it’s only fair that we acknowledge that he performed way better than the 49 games he played during the 2017-18 season where he ended with a 16-26-9 record, 3.11 goals against per game, and a .900 save percentage.

Price got back in the game, both mentally and physically, last season. Because of that, the Canadiens had a pretty good run. With a backup goalie who can help give the team a fighting chance, we should finally see the Habs back in the playoffs this season.