Words can’t possibly describe just how dreadful Montreal’s 2021-22 campaign has been.
It’s like getting fired on your birthday. It’s like dropping a bowling ball on your you-know-whats. It’s like dropping your takeout order on a late night after slipping on some ice. It’s like getting within three wins of the Stanley Cup and falling into disarray just months later.
It’s been awful. Downright awful. But do you know who hasn’t been awful? Goaltender Sam Montembeault.
After making 48 saves in a rare road win against Dallas on Tuesday, Montembeault upped the ante with a 49-save effort — a career-high — in a 2-1 overtime loss to Vegas. Montreal stealing three points in a two-game stretch in which they were outshot 104-48 is simply mindblowing, and Montembeault is a big reason why.
And to think Montreal got him for free. With a crowded crease to start the year, the Canadiens grabbed Montembeault off waivers from Florida to help bolster the team’s goalie depth with Carey Price on the sidelines to start the year. Price is still out, and absences for Allen due to COVID-19 – and now another eight weeks due to a lower-body injury – has forced Montembeault to play more than the team likely expected.
His performance this season goes far past a good week on the road. Of the 53 goalies with at least 10 games played this year, Montembeault’s .932 save percentage at 5-on-5 is good for 11th, and his 4.69 goals-saved-above-average is 15th — and surprisingly impressive given Montreal’s situation. Jake Allen, comparatively, has a minus-0.85 GSAA and a .918 SP, placing him 33rd in both categories. Granted, Allen has eight more games played this season, but what Montembeault has accomplished this season is nothing short of impressive. His stats have been particularly boosted this week, but he’s still well above the league average.
It’s hard to call a guy with an official record of 2-6-4 record in 16 games played as having a successful season. His overall record is 11-14-7 — hardly the stuff of legend. But look what Montembeault has had to deal with this season: for the past month, the team has been ravaged by injuries and COVID. Even when the team is at its best, it’s a shell of what transpired that saw the Habs go on a near-miracle of a run to the Stanley Cup final in July.
Under no circumstance is Montembeault as Montreal’s starting goalie considered a good thing for the bleu, blanc et rouge. But in his case, the 25-year-old is doing everything to prove that he’s capable of being a full-time NHL goaltender moving forward. It’s all about taking advantage of the situation in Montembeault’s case, and his underlying numbers have been solid enough, even in a small sample size.
A 1-2 goalie punch of Montembeault and Cayden Primeau is… unsettling, to say the least. But it’s not like the season matters much to the Shane Wright-chasing Canadiens anyways. But for Montembeault, he’s looking to prove he’s got value moving forward. Like Primeau, Montembeault is a pending RFA, and one that’s likely going to find a new home in a perfect scenario for the Canadiens. Heck, Primeau, one of the team’s top young prospects, could end up finishing the year as the No. 1. But Montembeault’s value has definitely exceeded the $750,000 deal he’s on now.
In a season of hell, you have to look much deeper to find positives. And whether or not Montembeault can turn this into anything tangible in his career isn’t clear, but he’s helping his case with the performances he has churned out recently.