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Laval Rocket season review: Charlie Lindgren needed to play more

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The goaltender found himself sharing the net in both Laval and Montreal.

Charlie Lindgren could have used a bit more consistency in his play at the American Hockey League level this past season, but not in the way that you might think.

The 26-year-old played 22 total games between the Laval Rocket and Montreal Canadiens, with 16 of those in the American Hockey League by mid-December. He played 34 times between both teams during the 2018-19 season (one Habs game), but he at least got consecutive starts on numerous occasions. That only happened once this past year, when the Rocket had him playing in three consecutive from December 7 to 13.

The pandemic stopping play in the AHL is a factor, but Lindgren was up with the Habs once the world came to a grinding halt, and wasn’t sent down to the Rocket (even as a paper transaction) before the National Hockey League trade deadline in February. That means he wouldn’t have been eligible to be sent back to the Rocket if they had made the playoffs (and there’s a good chance they might have).

The point is this: Lindgren is still at a point in his career where he needs more playing time to show he can be an NHL goaltender. Right now he’s caught in the midst of a crowded club where everyone else needs to play, too, and it may result in him being let go when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

From the beginning of the 2019-20 season, he found himself sharing the net and alternating starts with youngster Cayden Primeau. When the Canadiens decided Keith Kinkaid needed some work in the AHL, the Habs called up Primeau instead of Lindgren, who clearly wanted to return to the NHL ranks (much like a handful of Rocket players on this year’s squad). He made those feelings known after the Canadiens opted to call up Primeau in early December instead.

“I’ve got quite the chip on my shoulder right now,” Lindgren said after a win over the Cleveland Monsters on December 4. “There’s no question about it. I feel like I’ve got a lot of naysayers right now.”

Ten days later, the Habs recalled Lindgren, and he’d go on to make six starts before hockey stopped in mid-March. Lindgren went 2-4-0 with a 3.33 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage in his six appearances as a Hab this season.

While he had some solid starts in the AHL, his stats (7-6-2-1, 2.67 GAA, .893 SV%) still left a bit to be desired.

It can also be argued that his much younger counterpart Primeau (17-11-3-4, 2.45 GAA, .908 SV%) impressed much more, albeit with more time in net. If Primeau is destined to progress upward, the natural path would see him as the heir to Carey Price while Lindgren would fall further down, or off, the depth chart.

Even if the Canadiens make the likely move to part with Kinkaid at season’s end, Lindgren may still have to fight for some time with Primeau, restricted free agent Michael McNiven (if retained), and newcomer Vasili Demchenko from the Kontinental Hockey League.

The role of backup goaltender with the Canadiens may be Lindgren’s to lose heading into next season, but there was reason to believe it was his to lose over the last two seasons before the Canadiens thought having Antti Niemi and Kinkaid as backup stopgaps were good ideas.

If Primeau shows enough to immediately jump to backup goaltender status in Montreal, that could leave him as the AHL starter. Even there, it’s entirely possible that Lindgren might have to share the net with McNiven (if retained) or Demchenko if he shows enough promise.

Depending on how things go in that crowded Canadiens’ stable of goaltenders, leaving for another organization may provide more stability and consistency in the long run for Lindgren.