It hasn’t been an easy year in any single area for the Montreal Canadiens. They’ve been injured, they’ve had COVID, they’ve just been flat out bad across the board. Goaltending especially has varied wildly all year, especially with Jake Allen coming on and off the injured list a handful of times due to circumstances outside his control.
Enter Samuel Montembeault, who was claimed off waivers to begin the season since Carey Price was entering the Player Assistance Program. Things didn’t exactly go Montembeault’s way to start either as he failed to have a game with a save percentage over .900 for the first month of his Habs tenure. He finally snapped that streak in his first win, a barnburner against Nashville, after which he embarked on another long losing skid and run of sub-.900 performances.
Then came a long pause thanks to COVID rescheduling and the Christmas break in the NHL, and since then Montembeault has come out looking much better. He posted a run of .912 , .903, .941 and .925 performances in his past four games, with the latter two being ones that the defence in front of him surrendered 50-plus shots on goal.
It’s a bit of dark history for the Habs once again, as they managed to give up more than 50 shots in back-to-back games for the first time in club history. Yet in net, Montembeault gave them every chance to finally get consecutive wins for the first time all year.
Against the Dallas Stars, Montembeault was able to slam the door shut and secure a much needed win not only for himself, but for a team desperatel in need of a boost. With 51 saves he never had a moment to rest, and by the time the final horn sounded he was bent over his net trying to catch his breath after one final scramble.
He nearly did the same thing against Vegas on Thursday night. He stared down 53 shots, stopping 49 of them as the Golden Knights were allowed to to run roughshod over his teammates. Without a strong showing from him, the game would more than likely have been over by the middle of the second period. With his strong goaltending, the Habs were allowed a chance to bend, not break.
It’s very reminiscent of watching Carey Price drag his team to wins in the Michel Therrien era. This isn’t to say that Montembeault is at that tier, but with his play finding another level, he’s at least giving the Habs a chance to stay in the game. And who knows, maybe with his strong play a team looking for a goaltending help might come knocking around the trade deadline and the Habs can snatch up assets for what was no cost to them at the beginning of the season.
Giving up 50 shots a night and hoping your goalie bails you out is not a long-term plan for success, but at the very least Montembeault is turning in the kind of performances that makes this team worth watching, at least a little bit more.