Perhaps the most surprising Montreal Canadiens player performance in the first quarter of the season has belonged to Samuel Montembeault. The 26-year-old Québécois netminder has appeared in eight games so far, sporting a 5-2-1 record after his stellar performance gave the Habs a shootout win over Chicago last Friday.
He ranks in the top-15 of the league for the two traditional goaltending stats. His 2.48 Goals Against Average is currently good for 13th, and his .924 Save Percentage has him in the top-10 at ninth. These stats are typically viewed as team numbers, however, as stronger defensive teams will typically yield lower GAA and higher Save Percentages.
According to money puck, he sits at 6.3 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx), which is ninth in the NHL as of this writing. He’s above Igor Shesterkin — a player many think is in the conversation for best goaltender in the league — in this category. This stat is generally more indicative of a goaltender’s personal contribution, as it takes into account their performance relative to what is coming at them. A player with a high GSAx, for lack of a better term, is stealing games.
Samuel Montembeault with ice in his veins tonight against breakaways. Two in a row. pic.twitter.com/L4n9YTKjnT— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) November 24, 2022
And Montembeault has absolutely stolen some games. If GSAx were to be illustrated in a single GIF, it would be the one above. Two breakaways given up by the Canadiens against Columbus in short order, in the same game, and Montembeault shutting the door on each with conviction.
What the hell is Samuel Montembeault ON lately? pic.twitter.com/SgOdcXytK9— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) November 25, 2022
The most recent win against Chicago wasn’t necessarily a steal, but it might have been very hard to win if not for how well he played. Though he’s clearly second-fiddle to Jake Allen at this juncture, it could be said that the Habs have a better chance in games where Montembeault is in net this year.
Arguably the biggest issue that has plagued him in his career is inconsistency. He has always had the ability to put together some incredible games, but they are usually few and far between during the season. This year, he’s been lights out in almost every game he’s played, and you have to wonder if and when that inconsistency will return.
Regression is expected, if not wished for by those in the fan base who would prefer the team to lose, and improve their potential draft position. I’m not sure if he can keep saving 6-7 goals above expected every eight games he plays, but it will be interesting to see how long he can keep up what is arguably the best stretch of his career at any level.
If regression doesn’t come, or if it isn’t as steep as expected, you also have to wonder if Montembeault sneaks his way into the team’s long-term plans at the goaltender position.
The good news is that the Canadiens aren’t in any rush to make a decision. Allen is signed through 2024-25, as is Cayden Primeau, and Montembeault still has 2023-24 on his deal. None of the three are exactly breaking the bank on their deals, so there is flexibility, security in numbers, and a no-pressure environment that can allow them to evaluate these three — and frankly their prospects as well — as they move towards the end of the rebuild.
Montembeault may be an unlikely long-term answer to the departure of Carey Price, but if he can keep playing the way he has, he just might enter that conversation before they have to make a decision.