One of the more interesting battles to follow during the Canadiens’ training camp will the competition to serve as Carey Price’s backup. As incumbent, Mike Condon will be facing some fierce competition. This position has seen a lot of volatility in recent years, and everyone is openly wondering whether this will be the fourth season in a row where the team welcomes a new backup goaltender, in the form of free agent acquisition Al Montoya.
In an effort to get to know Montoya a bit better I asked Todd Little (@toddlittle827) from our SBN sister site Litter Box Cats some questions about the former Florida Panther, as to help paint a better picture of the Canadiens’ new goaltender.
Was Al Montoya a trustworthy backup for the Panthers?
After a bit of an underwhelming first season in Florida, where he went 6-7-2 with a 3.01 GAA, Montoya was very impressive in 2015-16. He consistently gave the Panthers quality starts and posted a 12-7-3 record, a down-right stingy 2.18 GAA and a save percentage of .919. Those numbers were pretty close to Roberto Luongo's, so there wasn't much, if any, drop off when The Big Cubano was tending the nets. Luongo finished with a 2.35 GAA and .922 save percentage.
So, yes, Montoya ended up being a trustworthy backup. I'd attribute his lackluster 2014-15 numbers with Florida to adjusting to being with a new team and seeing much less action than the year before with Winnipeg. A few real stinkers bloated his stats a bit, but he got better in the latter part of that campaign, paving the way for a much, much better performance this past season.
How many games can he be expected to play?
Ideally, for Montoya, the number would be fall somewhere between 25 and 30. That way he is seeing enough action to stay at the top of the his game. I thought part of his struggles in his first season as a Panther was he'd sit for long periods of time and was rusty when he did get a start. If Price is healthy for the whole season then that number will probably be closer to 20, which would be ideal for the Canadiens as they are obviously a different team with Price in goal.
What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Montoya has good size and when is positioning is on, he can be very hard to beat. He handles the puck well and has been around long enough to have seen it all. After some initial hiccups, he settled in nicely with the Panthers and was a very good backup to Luongo, earning the confidence of both Florida's main man in net and the coaching staff. I'd expect him to provide the Canadiens with that same level of confidence this season.
As far as weaknesses go, Montoya is prone to letting in a bad goal (or two) at inopportune times, even if he is having a good game overall. And there will likely be two or three games this season where Canadiens' fans might find themselves saying "why did we sign this guy?" The good news is Montoya is very confident and can bounce back from a bad goal or bad game.
Should Price be tragically felled again this season, can Montoya shoulder the burden of being a starter in Montreal?
That's an interesting question, because despite being 31-years-old, Montoya only has 136 NHL appearances to his credit. The most games he's ever played in a single season was 31 in 2011-12 with the New York Islanders.
Coming off the season he had with the Panthers, I think Montoya could shoulder the burden of filling in for Price, but my question would be for how long? If it was for a few weeks or even for a couple of months, I'd feel pretty comfortable with Al as my number one. If Price was injured early on and was out for the rest year, I'd want to make sure that Mike Condon is also getting some action to make sure Montoya is rested and not getting burned out.