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Canadiens Goalies: Primeau, Allen, & The Value Of Consistency

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Montreal canadiens cayden primeau

The Montreal Canadiens carried three goaltenders for the vast majority of the season.

They only managed to slay the three-headed monster in the final moments of the NHL’s Trade Deadline, when general manager Kent Hughes finally moved Jake Allen to the New Jersey Devils.

To be perfectly fair, Hughes and Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald had agreed on a deal earlier in the season, but given New Jersey already had two goaltenders in place, Allen decided to block the trade as they were one of the teams on his modified no-trade list.

MUST READ: Jake Allen Blocked Traed To New Jersey Devils Earlier In The Season

It was well within his rights, as he wanted to avoid moving to another team that featured a goaltending carousel.

And for good reason, too.

We all know goaltenders are a special breed.

There are two quotes from legendary Canadiens netminder Jacques Plante that sum up their mentality perfectly.

“Goaltending is a normal job, sure. How would you like it in your job if every time you made a small mistake, a red light went on over your desk and 15,000 people stood up and yelled at you?

“Only a goalie can appreciate what a goalie goes through.”

Of course, things have not become any easier in the modern NHL landscape. Masks are now accepted, and the equipment no longer weighs 300 lbs by the third period because it has absorbed a ridiculous amount of sweat and water. But the improvements in equipment available to skaters quickly dwarf those perks.

Oh, and unlike, say, Glen Hall, goaltenders are no longer tasked with playing an unreasonable amount of games. In that vein, Hall’s record of 503 consecutive starts isn’t just an astonishing number, it’s perhaps the safest record in the NHL, and that includes a bevy of jaw-dropping records set by the Great One, Wayne Gretzky.

And while Hall’s streak will never be topped, it does speak to what goaltenders crave most: consistency.

Playing in a 1A/1B situation is barely enough to find your rhythm. But playing in a “défense à trois” setup is a recipe for disaster. Even if one of the goaltenders enjoys a great outing, they have to head to the back of the line.

By the time they receive another start, the momentum they built in the previous game is nowhere to be found.

Moving On

The results since the trade has confirmed a few things.

The first is that Jake Allen is still a good goaltender. Despite putting up reasonable numbers, he received more than his share of criticism during his time in Montreal.

Of course, playing for a team like the Habs has certain implications.

You will face a half dozen or more odd-man rushes per game. And the first period will always be a toss-up, as the Habs are rarely the best team out of the gate. It takes them a period, or longer, to find their groove.

With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that Allen has only had one game with the Devils in which his save percentage dipped below .900. In fact, his save percentage during his time with the Devils is .923, a gigantic improvement upon the .892 he had with the Habs.

But we’re not here to praise the Devils.

Rather, the goal is to point out that the context in which goaltenders are playing will impact their results significantly.

Now that the crease is less crowded, Allen can prepare for every game knowing that he’s likely to be given the start. It’s a big psychological advantage he did not have in Montreal.

Montreal Canadiens Crease

While Allen has played well for the Devils, you could argue Primeau has played even better for the Montreal Canadiens.

Once again, the improved situation has led to better numbers.

In Primeau’s four appearances since the trade, the 24-year-old has saved 94 of the 98 shots he faced at 5v5, good for a sparkling .959 save percentage.

He also ranks seventh in the NHL among goaltenders for goals saved above average at 5v5.

In other words, now that Primeau can focus on his starts rather than wondering how many weeks of inaction he has to deal with, he is turning in numbers that suggest he has the skill set needed to help the team throughout their rebuild.

Consequently, he was recently awarded the Molson Cup.

Setting Up Montreal Canadiens Goalies For Success

Primeau is not a complainer. He traversed the frustrating situation without making a peep, but I do remember a reaction he gave many years ago when he was stuck in a similar situation with the Laval Rocket.

He was involved in a three-goalie setup in his first three seasons in the AHL.

Every week I would ask him how he was dealing with the situation, and every week he’d answer the same thing. He was just happy to be playing professional hockey. I’d change the formula of my question, but Primeau would quickly realize I was looking for a different answer, and would once again give a formulated response that revealed very few details.

But eventually, fellow goaltender Charlie Lindgren let it slip that it was difficult. “It’s hard to prepare when you don’t have the net,” said the veteran. For the record, Lindgren also avoided complaining. His admission was simply a confirmation of what we already knew.

Primeau, sitting just a few feet away, nodded in agreement.

The previous season, Lindgren had played in yet another three-goalie situation.

The other two goaltenders, Zachary Fucale and Michael McNiven, were also held back by the lack of starts.

McNiven was never given a legitimate opportunity to prove his worth despite having much better numbers than his counterparts. Fucale eventually made his way to the KHL, where he has established himself as one of the best goaltenders in the league.

As for Lindgren, he is enjoying a great season with the Washington Capitals, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue he has not been the main reason the team is competing for a playoff spot.

Brass Tacks

The moral of the story is that goaltenders cannot provide consistent results without consistency in their usage.

Unfortunately, the position is almost always at risk of being sandbagged by a lack of available spots.

Every team has a half dozen or more goaltenders in the organization, and there are only so many starter positions in the NHL or AHL. When we factor in the need for insurance should a goaltender become injured, there simply aren’t enough chairs in play.

But if there’s value to adding more goaltenders than necessary to the mix in case of emergency, it’s also true that there’s a significant risk involved in flooding the crease.

Goaltenders need a clear roadmap to prepare adequately for their starts, and that’s simply not a realistic proposal when three goaltenders are involved.

It’s a lesson that the Montreal Canadiens must keep in mind moving forward.

Just ask Jake Allen or Cayden Primeau.

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Tyrone

As I started reading the article the first thing I thought about was the mess back when we had Fucale, Lindgren and McNiven in the AHL, and ruined their development, so I’m glad it was later mentioned in the article. I brought up the same situation in a comment I wrote after the draft last summer when we selected 3 goalies. It’s all fine and dandy to overstock the cupboards with prospects and let the cream rise to the top, but goaltending is a special situation. Reps are the key to development and more than 2 goalies anywhere just doesn’t work. With Dobes, Fowler, Volokin and Miller in the fold, we’re already in a pickle to find them all suitable developmental spots to allow them to become the best they can be. I think we’ve already wrecked Vrbetic, and let an excellent prospect in Dichow walk because we didn’t have proper options available to develop them properly. I’d hate to see us waste even more of the guys mentioned above before their careers stall. Yes, the cream will rise to the top, but you can’t let the milk spoil before it has a chance to happen.

Me2

Perhaps the team is going to dangle some of their prospects as trade bait. There are only so many roster spots to go around, and it’s better to get something back that might help your team in areas where it needs help than to just have their prospects rot on the vine.

Montreal needs scoring, and if there’s suitable players being under-utilized on other teams who would blossom playing on the Canadiens, well, there you go.

I sort of wonder about Nick Robertson with the Leafs, as an example. Toronto is stacked up front and Robertson is never going to get a chance to show what he can do with the Leafs, no chance.

But, with the Canadiens, give him top 6 minutes, and maybe he excels, maybe he develops into a 25-30 goal scorer.

To be clear, just using Robertson as an example, not being specific with him.

These are the moves management should and probably is looking at.

Tyrone

I’ve been hoping for package deals since we blew up the ‘21 Cup finalists. We’ve lacked elite players for much of the past 3 decades. We’ve certainly had some, but not enough to be in the upper echelon of the NHL. To me, there’s no point in settling for anything less than the best possible player we can find in a trade when there are a finite number of roster spots available. A trade where we bring back a good player, a pick and a B prospect just doesn’t cut it for us anymore. We should be the team moving all those pieces to bring in 1 elite player. Right now we have plenty of players and prospects that won’t be a part of our long term success and I’m not just talking about aging veterans either. Guys like Farrell, Kidney and even Mesar are all expendable. I used to include Mysak on this list but we finally moved him out, albeit for nothing of use really. We don’t need to draft (or trade for) another Dman for years imo. We have all the pieces in place or coming that we need to build a Cup contender. All we need is time to let them gain experience and develop. The same can almost be said for forwards, except for elite scoring wingers. With Suzuki, Caufield, Slafkovsky and Dach, 4 of the top 6 spots are locked up. I think Roy definitely has potential to be the 5th too. Newhook is also pretty good. I’d feel a lot better about our future had we selected Michkov last year. Hopefully that doesn’t happen again at the upcoming draft and we select a player that is a slam dunk top 6 addition. Goaltending is good, but unless Fowler can replicate at the NHL level what he’s done everywhere else, could still be an area to upgrade. I’d love to package up a bunch of assets for Askarov out of Nashville. I’d feel much more secure moving forward knowing he was a part of the future. Other than that, I think we just have to be patient and let the kids work through the growing pains to see what the final pieces of the puzzle could be.

Me2

I don’t pretend to know who the Canadiens should be after. They have guys getting paid a lot of money to ID players on other teams whom they might be able to poach.

Tyrone

Finding out is the best part of the off-season. 😁

Dana

Martin Brodeur was recently lamenting the way NHL goalies are managed today compared to when he Roy, Hasek, Belfour, Cujo etc patrolled the paint. He says todays goalies are babied. He’s a supporter of naming a number 1 and playing him a ton. But that requires a clear number 1. Some teams are better with a 1A/1B format like the Bruins

My point is that we need to let the play lead the solution and not a force a format to follow a trend.

Eddy

One reason why several good AHL goalies had difficulty getting promoted to the Canadiens was because Carey Price was a elite goalie. But now that Carey Price is retired and has been replaced by very good, but not great goalies, the minor league goalies will have a better chance to land of job with the big team. It will still be difficult but at least they do not have to compete against Carey Price.

Me2

The problem with this article is that it should have been posted back last October when it was clear the Canadiens had made the decision to go with 3 goalies.

Stating now after Allen has been moved out that having 3 goalies is a bad idea, a bit late.

If goalies play better when they know the routine, when there’s consistency, then it’s fair to speculate how many points the Habs left on the table by the nonsensical call to play 3 goalies.

I’ll say maybe 7 or 8. It doesn’t put them in a playoff spot, but at least they would have been in the race. And remember even with this bad goaltending situation, Habs were only a few points out of a playoff spot by Christmas. So, who knows.

There is on many of these blogs far too much worshipping of the team and management and not enough criticism when it’s warranted.

I would call of Mr. Dumont to speak out if he thinks the team is messing up and not wait until after the situation has been resolved to post how what the team was doing previously wasn’t too good.

Dana

I still don’t understand why the goaltending situation became so complicated. A decision needed to be made in the Fall. Hughes intended to sign Sam.

Jake Allen is a good pro, ideally a 1B. He wasn’t a long term solution for us. So if you waived him and he got picked up, his salary comes off the books and you lose the 3rd round pick we got for him. If you took the first reasonable offer, maybe it was a bit less but you resolved a situation for low cost in an area of wealth( draft capital)

If you waived Primeau and he got picked up, you lost your AHL starter but not a top NHL goalie prospect. You lost maybe the 4 round pick that he could potentially generate in a trade but you give Dobes an opportunity to develop.

Habs have multiple goalie prospects. Dobes in Laval has been amazing in 2024. Fowler is the guy most seem to think is the heir apparent but I have reservations. He’s having an incredible season so that gives him the inside track. Plus there are several others in the system. With so few nhl net jobs available , often the solution is as simple as looking at who is stuck behind the best goalies in the league like your askarov example.

I also agree Me2 that it is ok to offer an honest assessment of the club and the players in our system. Just because we drafted them does not make them superstars in the making.

I look at Mesar and try to fit him into a future roster but I can’t. At the time, I wondered if Hughes selected him in an effort to help Slafkovsky transition to North America as they’ve been friends since childhood. I look at some of the guys selected after him and think perhaps they could earn a roster spot like Beck projects to do. I look at Reinbacher at 5 last year and I still think it was a mistake, however I think he will be a good player for us. I just don’t think he was the right choice. Am I right? Time will tell. But I’m willing to critique, either with measured or untethered support or even a raised eyebrow. Love the mid to later selections of Roy, Bogdan K, Q Miller and Florian and the early ones in Slafkovsky and Beck so overall good job but not great. This year becomes more critical based on my perceived drafting misteps by Kent. The margin of error in building an elite team capable of winning championships in a cap era is thin. His cap management is best in class and he gets high marks on the trade front.

Brian Burke made the comment at the start of the cap era that the team with the best GM wins. He was likely celebrating his intelligence but his point was not lost. We appear to have an elite management group.

Me2

I was talking to somebody today who was telling me how impressed I would be with Lane Hutson once he made the Canadiens.

Perhaps, but he is something like 5′ 10” standing on his skates. He is listed as 160 lbs. Sorry, don’t see him making the Canadiens as a defence man. In the NHL, defensemen are expected to be able to play defence. I don’t see Hutson surviving in the NHL as a defender.

Maybe he works out as a winger, but even then given his small stature, it’s going to be tough for him to make it.

mikeysl

Another point to consider is that goalies take a little longer to develop. Maybe the CHL should consider allowing goalies an extra year?

The McNiven situation was a fiasco but he wasnt as “quiet” about it and the previous management kind of blackballed him.