Over the past decade plus, the Montreal Canadiens have had both excellent seasons and poor ones, some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows. The farthest they have made it this century has been the Eastern Conference Finals, and they were not able to capitalize on the opportunity. One factor has remained constant throughout this rollercoaster of emotion, though: they have one of the best goalies in the world. Now, they might have found the perfect backup to sit behind him. All the pieces could be falling into place for the Canadiens in this 2020-21 NHL season.
Since drafting him fifth overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, the Montreal Canadiens have been backstopped in net by one of the best goalies in the league year-in and year-out: Carey Price.
The 33-year old goalie has taken the team as far as the Conference Finals, but has long been a victim of the team’s mediocrity. So often have the Habs iced a thin roster hoping it would perform above its potential, only to fall short of a playoff series win, or even of the playoffs at all. And Price has always been there to see the shortcomings – all of them.
Price has amassed nearly 700 games played in his career, appearing in 686 games for the Habs and posting a record of 350-250-76. A short list of goalies have ever broken the 350-win threshold, putting Price in elite company already. His career numbers of a 2.50 goals against average, .917 save percentage, and 48 shutouts could be the measuring stick for consistently strong play from a goalie.
Price had one of the best seasons in recorded history in the 2014-15 season, when he won 44 games, and put up a 1.96 GAA, .933 SV%, and a whopping nine shutouts. That year, he won the Vezina Trophy, the William M. Jennings Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award, and the Hart Memorial Trophy. It’s safe to say he’s won it all. Well, almost, anyway.
Canadiens Needed A Goalie
One of the biggest holes on Montreal’s roster has long been the lack of a sturdy backup goaltender. It’s led to Carey Price being overworked, getting injured, and has even led to premature playoff exits, when the Habs might have advanced otherwise. It seems that hole has been filled, and for good this time.
And it all started when general manager Marc Bergevin acquired Jake Allen from the St. Louis Blues.
At 30 years old, Jake Allen is no rookie anymore. The former second-round pick by the Blues in the 2008 Draft had been promised as the goalie of the future in St. Louis, but never really delivered on the high expectations the franchise set for him. He was always competing for the starting role, but wasn’t able to out-compete guys like Jaroslav Halak, and, most recently, Jordan Binnington.
Allen fell out of favor with the arrival of Binnington in the 2018-19 season, but never missed a beat with his play. Allen had always had good numbers, just not great numbers. And to be a bonafide starter in this league, goalies have to put up great numbers.
In the backup role behind Binnington in the 2019-20 season, Allen appeared in 24 games, posting a record of 12-6-3, along with stellar numbers, by all accounts: a 2.15 GAA, .927 SV%, and two shutouts. When it comes to backup goalies, you can’t ask for much better.
Allen put his head down, worked as hard as he could, and was an exemplary teammate in the Blues’ eventual Stanley Cup win, and in the following season. His production showed just that. It’s safe to say that Jake Allen could arguably be called the best backup goalie in the NHL.
Canadiens’ Season In Goal So Far
So, how have things worked out for the Habs so far this season with the one-two punch of Carey Price and Jake Allen in net? Turns out, it’s worked pretty well. Price is 2-0-2 in four games played with a 3.14 GAA and .893 SV%, and while his numbers don’t show it quite yet, he has played well and helped the Habs capture the majority of points in the games he has played.
Allen has been exactly what the GM ordered, winning both of his two starts so far allowing just four goals, good for a 2.01 GAA and .907 SV%.
At the time of writing, the Canadiens are 4-0-2 with 10 points in the standings. Their 29 goals for and 18 goals against makes for an outstanding +11 goal differential, and they currently sit at second in the all-Canadian Scotia North Division, behind only the rival Toronto Maple Leafs, who have a record of 5-2-0.
Montreal has won two straight games, most recently a steamrolling of the Vancouver Canucks, who looked far worse than the Habs in their most recent tilt. The Canadiens finally seem to have a strong mix of players in front of their two goalies, icing a mix of veterans with playoff pedigree and a good group of young, skilled forwards and smooth-skating defensemen.
Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki, and Alexander Romanov, to name just a few, are some of the newest stalwarts in the lineup that have made an immediate impact.
Jake Allen is signed through the end of the 2022-23 season with a $2.875-million AAV, making him one of the more expensive backups in the entire NHL. If things stay the same as they have been early on, though, he looks to be well worth the money.
Carey Price is in the third year of his eight-year, monster contract worth a whopping $10.5-million AAV. Who knows if Price will still be elite past this season or the next? His contract could become a burden down the road, which is why there is all the more reason to be in “win now” mode for the Canadiens. That makes this year feel even more important, seeing as the backup goalie position has been shored up and the roster filled out nicely with some key pieces.
Price and Allen are the new X factor for the Montreal Canadiens, and it will likely through their strong play that the Habs make a run this year at Lord Stanley.
- Price and Allen image from Telegraph-Journal
- Allen with Stanley Cup image by Bruce Bennett / Getty Images, via The Wall Street Journal