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Laval Rocket season review: Keith Kinkaid was a failed backup plan

The Canadiens’ free agent signing was unable to provide sufficient help for the Habs and Rocket.

Club du hockey Canadien Inc./Laval Rocket

Three days before his 30th birthday, Keith Kinkaid joined the Montreal Canadiens. On July 1, the first day of free agency. Kinkaid had the intentions of being the team’s number-two goalie to Carey Price.

It would be surprising if the Canadiens re-signed Kinkaid, who signed a one-year deal worth $1.75 million, this off-season. The netminder went 1-1-3 in six appearances for the Habs, posting a poor 4.24 goals-against average along with an .875 save percentage, a step down from his performance a few years earlier.

The Farmingville, New York native showed some promise during the 2017-18 season where his 26-10-3 record was good enough to help the New Jersey Devils into the playoffs. Kinkaid was even traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets the following season as reinforcements for their playoff push, but never suited up for the team.

There was reason to believe he could be solid behind Price, but it just wasn’t the case. His starts were few and far between in Montreal and he only had one game where he allowed fewer than four goals.

Kinkaid’s final appearance for the Habs came on November 30 where he allowed four goals on 29 shots in an overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Two days later, Canadiens management placed the netminder on waivers.

He went unclaimed and joined the Laval Rocket in the American Hockey League with the hopes of changing his fortunes and playing more consistently, even if it meant alternating starts with top prospect Cayden Primeau. Unfortunately, Kinkaid couldn’t consistently hold his own in the AHL.

“When you’re not playing for two weeks, you’re trying not to make a mistake,” Kinkaid said back in December. “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.”

While he worked on allowing fewer goals as a Rocket goaltender, he still struggled to be consistent in the minors.

You couldn’t completely blame him for allowing four first-period goals in his first Rocket game against the Syracuse Crunch. But allowing four goals is still a backbreaker for just about anyone.

Even as he would win three of his next five starts following that game, Rocket fans showered Kinkaid with Bronx cheers during a December 27 start where he allowed three goals in less than a minute — though head coach Joël Bouchard said post-game that he had been dealing with cramps. It wouldn’t be the last time Kinkaid would draw such a reaction from the fans during the season.

Club de hockey Canadien inc/Laval Rocket

Following that five-game stretch, Kinkaid picked up losses in his next seven appearances. The losses did not help the Rocket as they found themselves in a dogfight for a playoff spot with a number of North Division teams.

Despite Kinkaid’s play, members of the Rocket were usually quick to defend him.

Bouchard also publicly vouched for his netminder at times, citing him as the “reason” the 2018 Devils made the playoffs. Bouchard even stuck up for Kinkaid after the two were seen having a lengthy, 30-minute discussion in full view of media during a February practice.

“The guy is frustrated,” Bouchard said in February. “Put yourself in his shoes for a little bit. He came here with the Habs, it wasn’t his plan to be here in Laval.”

It wasn’t his plan to be in Laval, and it certainly wasn’t his plan to switch AHL teams later in the season. Kinkaid was later reassigned to the Charlotte Checkers to end the season. He went 2-1-1 in four appearances for the Checkers before the AHL’s season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It should go without saying that Kinkaid will go down as a failed signing for the Habs. He was given a chance to regain his confidence in Laval when the going got tough in Montreal, but his inability to come up with a key save or or an important win when it mattered doomed him in the end.

Is it possible that Kinkaid could have turned the corner in his final few games with Charlotte had the season not ended when it did? We will never know. When the goalie looks back on his play during the 2019-20 season, it may be a season he’d like to forget.