It was not an easy year to be a goaltender in the Montreal Canadiens organization, unless your name is Antti Niemi. For Charlie Lindgren, this year was supposed to be his coming out party. Many assumed he would take over the Habs backup role, or at the very least, light up the AHL similar to that of his rookie season. What happened instead could only be described as growing pains for the 24-year-old netminder, even with his solid NHL numbers.
With Carey Price and Al Montoya suffering concussions over the course of this season, Lindgren had 14 NHL starts where he posted two out of the four shutouts the Canadiens recorded this year. In those 14 games, Lindgren was 4-8-2 with a 3.03 GAA and a .908 SV%. Not earth-shattering, but with the Habs struggles this year these numbers have to be taken with some context. The Canadiens defensive woes and penalty-killing issues made even Price look human, so it’s not hard to understand why Lindgren struggled overall as the season progressed. However, his last performance showed Habs fans exactly what he can do as he faced down 49 shots while the rest of his team failed to show up, and more than a handful of those saves were highlight-reel worthy.
For the love of god someone help Charlie Lindgren please. pic.twitter.com/uWH5chyGyf— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 18, 2018
In the AHL this year, things did not go well for the sophomore goalie who posted a 8-19-9 record, that included just two shutouts, along with a 3.39 GAA and .886 SV%. Much like his NHL numbers they aren’t indicative of his overall play, but more the poor quality of the team in front of him. The Rocket finished last in the AHL standings and had the league’s worst penalty kill. Throwing another wrinkle into all of this was the team’s overall lack of discipline. All of these issues together lead to the Rocket goalie being left out to dry nearly every single game. Even if Lindgren made a dozen massive stops, he’d still have to make a dozen more on the penalty kill and despite his best efforts he couldn’t stop everything.
With the poor quality of the team, and the season overall, it’s hard to get a real read on how much progress Lindgren made from his rookie season to this one. When he was off his game, or the team was struggling badly, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see him on the hook for four or more goals in a game.
The good news is things are not as bleak as the stats and results would suggest. Lindgren is not only an upper-echelon goaltending prospect, he’s arguably the top prospect within the Canadiens organization right now. While the moments were few and far between this year, you can see exactly why the Canadiens awarded the Lakeville Minnesota native a three-year contract extension.
At his best, Lindgren is capable of doing jaw-dropping things on the ice. Whether it be with his glove, or by making a sliding-pad save across his crease, he’s never truly out of the play if he can see the puck.
What a save by Charlie Lindgren on James Neal pic.twitter.com/BnSmVMXHEP— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 8, 2017
One advantage Lindgren has is that he catches with his right hand as opposed to the left like the goalie majority. Most players are wired to shoot for the blocker side, as the goalie is holding their stick and cannot react as quick to stop the puck. That doesn’t hold true for Lindgren, who uses his glove to great effect and has made a number of incredible saves by flashing it over the course of this year.
With Niemi’s non-stop chaos and adventures in net behind Price this year, and both Zach Fucale and Michael McNiven being wild cards on any given night, Lindgren brings a stable presence between the pipes. Even if he has the ability to make the highlight-reel stop, his overall positioning and cool demeanor makes him an easy option for a coach to lean on over the course of a season.
There is, of course, the question of what the Canadiens should do with the young goalie next year. He’s proven to be a capable NHL option but could also benefit from another full year in a starting role for Laval. If the team does decide that Niemi’s small body of work is worth an extension, then Lindgren will have the net to start the year in the AHL. This is also a benefit to McNiven and Fucale should the latter be re-signed. If the Habs opt to not re-sign Niemi, then Lindgren will squire Price and take the next step forward in his development.
It’s easy to look at Charlie Lindgren’s numbers this year and immediately be disappointed, and he himself has said as much during the locker clean out in Laval. There’s no reason to panic over his down season though, the Rocket and the Canadiens should drastically improve next year and regardless of which league he’s in, Lindgren will bounce back. His downturn in the stats column isn't through a loss of ability, but more due to being able to keep up with the insane workload asked of him. New coaches and systems should tighten up some of the flaws, and with that Lindgren’s athletic ability should shine through and allow him to return to the form that made him an AHL All-Star in his rookie year.