We previously took a deep dive into the forward group and defense group for the 2021-2022 iteration of the Montreal Canadiens. The forward group is quite deep and will present the coaching staff with a lot of decisions, but also lots of opportunities.
On defense, things are not quite as complicated, but they are far from ideal. With Edmundson injured, and Guhle sent back to juniors, the team only has 6 healthy defensemen.
When it comes to goaltending, the situation seemed pretty cut and dry: Price and Allen would take the crease from day 1. With the news that Carey Price has entered the NHL Player Assistance Program, he will miss at least a month of game action.
Additions: Vrebtic (2021 7th round pick – 214 overall), Montembault
Subtractions: Lindgren, Demchenko
Carey Price (12-7-5, 1 SO, 0.901 SV%, 2.64 GAA, 13-9-0, 1 SO, 0.924 SV%, 2.28 GAA in the playoffs):
Carey Price had an up and down season in 2021, although, by his standards (or at least the expectations put on him) it might be considered a pretty down year overall. He ended the season by sustaining a few injuries (a LBI had him out from April 7 – 16 and then a concussion from April 19 until the end of the season). He played a game in Laval on a conditioning stint in order to be back in game shape for the start of the playoffs against the Leafs.
However, once the playoffs rolled around, Carey Price showed us why he is still one of the best goalies in the world. The Habs got strong performances from many players during their run to the Cup Final, but none were more impactful than Price’s. He shut the door on the Leafs in games 5 through 7 and allowed the Habs to complete their comeback from being down 3 to 1. He was stellar against the Jets and Golden Knights, allowing his team to upset both teams.
In the Final, Price faltered in games 1, 2 and 3 before dialing it in for the final 2 games. Unfortunately, the Habs came up short, but Price showed that he’s still got it. Hopefully a more normal season in 2021-2022 with Allen as his backup will allow him to bounce back, when he returns of course.
Once the dust had settled on the disappointment of losing in the Cup Final, Price and the Habs went through a whirlwind of an offseason. Right before the Expansion Draft, we found out that Price would likely require surgery and had multiple injuries and then we learned that the Habs intended to leave him unprotected (at his suggestion) in order to protect Jake Allen who was likely to be taken by Seattle. This was a huge gamble, as Seattle could have easily turned around and taken Price to build their team around similar to how Vegas picked Marc-André Fleury. Fortunately, they did not take Price and instead elected to nab Cale Fleury who was subsequently placed on waivers and went unclaimed.
Price had his surgery and has been recovering ever since. The Habs stated that he would be ready for the beginning of the regular season, but with the recent news of his personal struggles, we will have to wait a little while to see him back in action.
2021-2022 Prediction: Once Price is able to return to action, we are hoping to see a rejuvenated and dialed-in version of the star goalie. The Atlantic division will be very tough this year, and if the Habs hope to secure a playoff spot they will need Price to play more like the playoff version we just saw this summer more so than what we’ve become accustomed to seeing during the regular season over the last few years.
Jake Allen (11-12-5, 0 SO, 0.907 SV%, 2.68 GAA):
Gambling with Price in the Expansion Draft was very risky. Would we have done the same? Probably not. But we do see why Bergevin actually agreed to it when Price presented him with the option. Jake Allen is extremely important. Not only is he extremely reliable, and easily the best backup goalie that the Habs have had during Bergevin’s tenure, but he is good enough to actually just split the starts during the regular season.
In seasons past, Price has had to play 50+ games to even give the Habs a chance at making the playoffs because any time he sat out, nothing short of a perfect defensive effort would result in a win. This ultimately hurt the team’s chances of making the playoffs, and either resulted in a tired or injured Price by the end of the season. With Allen, Price can play closer to 41 games (50% of the season), be more well rested and take more time to recover from any injuries he may sustain. This was proven to work well last season, where a rested and recovered Price was able to stand on his head and carry the team to their first Cup Final since 1993.
2021-2022 Prediction: Barring any significant injuries to Price, we expect Allen to split the regular season starts with Price upon his return. With a very tough battle ahead for the Habs in the Atlantic (and the Eastern Conference as a whole), and an arguably weaker D-core with the loss of Weber, Allen might not end the year with a stellar record but we expect him to pick up where he left off last year with quality play that allows the Habs to rely on him for 35 to 40 starts.
Michael McNiven (7-3-4, 1 SO, 0.895 SV%, 2.59 GAA) (AHL):
We put McNiven in the Dark Horses section because we just aren’t sure what to expect from him at this point but feel like there’s still a chance that he can at least earn a permanent AHL spot. He’s shown us positive signs of improvement over the last year and may cement himself as a future backup in the NHL. Previously, he had been bounced around the AHL and ECHL to be able to see some playing time, but it looks like he has officially graduated to the AHL.
2021-2022 Prediction: We started writing this article before Samuel Montembeault was claimed off of waivers, and originally thought that McNiven was a lock for a spot in Laval and could perhaps even back up Allen if Price wasn’t ready for game 1 of the NHL regular season. With Montembeault now part of the organization to backup Allen, McNiven’s spot is assured in Laval as Primeau’s partner.
Samuel Montembeault (8-4-1, 1 SO, 0.898 SV%, 2.86 GAA) (AHL):
Per Renaud Lavoie, the Habs were always interested in Montembeault and actually wanted to draft him back in 2015.
— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) October 2, 2021
With Florida having Spencer Knight and Sergei Bobrovsky, there just wasn’t room for Montembeault in Florida. While his save percentage and goals against average weren’t fantastic last year in the AHL, he had a winning record and was previously a relatively highly-touted prospect.
2021-2022 Prediction: Montembeault will start the year as Jake Allen’s backup. He will likely see action as soon as game 2 against the Buffalo Sabres. Once Carey Price returns to the team, it’ll be interesting to see what Marc Bergevin does with him. Does he put him on waivers? Try to trade him? He would have to clear waivers to go to Laval, but then that begs the question: does the organization want to bump McNiven out of the crease there? Time will tell.
Players on the Rise
Cayden Primeau (11-4-0, 2 SO, 0.909 SV%, 2.10 GAA) (AHL) & (1-2-1, 0 SO, 0.849 SV%, 4.16 GAA) (NHL):
Primeau’s 2021 season had two polar opposite parts to it: his AHL and NHL stints. In the AHL, he was very good and came in 7th in SV% and 2nd in GAA for goalies playing at least 15 games. This was the exact kind of season we wanted to see from him; getting tons of starts and being relied on as the starter for the Rocket.
When Primeau was called up to the NHL during the time that Price was injured, he struggled mightily. We won’t put all the blame on him as the Habs played some atrocious hockey down the stretch, but Primeau definitely didn’t do himself or the team any favours.
2021-2022 Prediction: For the upcoming season, Laval will be playing 72 games and we hope to see Primeau start at least 40 of those games. In watching Primeau play in the pre-season so far, we’ve noticed that while he shows promise, he lacks the experience and reps to lock in good habits and positioning. By the Habs gamble to keep Allen paying off, the team has bought a two year window for Primeau to play a good 70-80 games in the AHL where he should be able to take his development to another level and that’s what we expect to see him strive for starting this season.
Won’t See NHL Action
The goalies below won’t see any professional North American ice time this year. With the 3 of them playing in juniors, college and overseas, they are still a ways away from entering the pro conversation.
- Jakub Dobes
- Frederik Dichow
- Joe Vrbetic