Finding Nemo

The veteran castoff has been nearly lights out in Montreal.

When Antti Niemi came to Montreal earlier this year, many assumed he’d just further the impending tank job that was on the horizon. He’d been run out of Pittsburgh, then run out of Florida after a disastrous start to the year.

Marc Bergevin claimed him off the waiver wire, and coming into last night’s game against Colorado, he had a 2-1-1 record along with a .929 save percentage and 2.47 goals-against average. That’s massively above what was expected from the Finnish netminder.

Against the Colorado Avalanche, Niemi pulled a repeat of his Super Bowl weekend performance against the Anaheim Ducks, standing on his head when his teammates faltered, and giving them a chance to get back into the game. Unfortunately, the netminder at the other end proved to be better on the night, as the Habs had fired over 40 shots on the Colorado net by the time the final whistle blew, but hadn’t found the net.

Niemi had a stretch early in the game, after the Habs had seemingly turned the tide of play in their favour, where the fourth line and bottom pairing couldn’t touch the puck, let alone clear the zone. He stood on his head, held the fort, and eventually smothered the loose puck. It’s a little thing, but he’s battling in every start he gets. He’ll never look as collected as Carey Price, but if he gets the job done like he has, it doesn’t really matter what it looks like.

The Habs didn’t get the win, and Niemi didn’t have much to do for most of the final period, but his strong performance allowed his teammates to find their feet and put together a strong performance. That’s a key takeaway from tonight’s game, that Niemi has now consistently put together good starts for the Habs, meaning he can spell off Carey Price down the stretch. Keeping the franchise cornerstone well-rested and healthy in a season where you’re playing for pride is the best course of action for the future.

With the trade deadline looming, Niemi’s resurgence could make him valuable to a team that needs a veteran backup, or just a replacement due to possible injuries. Getting anything in return for Niemi is a major victory when you consider he was claimed off of waivers for literally nothing, and was built up from being the guy with the worst goaltending numbers in the league. Also factor in Charlie Lindgren, who was outstanding during his NHL stint is now signed on for the next three years too, and it could mean moves are coming in short order.

Regardless of what the Canadiens do with Niemi, his strong run of form has been a bright spot on a Montreal team sorely in need of positive news. Whether it be due to working with the man who helped him win a Stanley Cup or something else, it’s nice to see some silver linings in an otherwise dreary season, especially when it comes from such an unexpected source.

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