When the flu bug hits a dressing room, it hits hard. The Montreal Canadiens experienced that firsthand when a severe flu kept Carey Price out of the first week of action to start the 2016-17 National Hockey League season.
During his absence, the Canadiens were 2-0-1 through three games largely thanks to the goaltending from newly signed veteran Al Montoya. Montoya finished his stint as Price’s replacement with a shutout, a 1.30 goals against average and a .962 save percentage.
Coming into the hockey crazed city of Montreal is never an easy task. It is especially difficult when you arrive as a newly signed player to replace a former MVP of the league. However, Montoya has come in with the right attitude, and an exemplary work ethic to win over the fans in Montreal and surely the confidence of his teammates that he can get the job done.
From THW News Archives – Canadiens Sign Al Montoya
“Al” Good Behind Price
If it wasn’t for Montoya, the Canadiens could be looking at a different record during the short absence of Cary Price. In his first game against the Sabres, third star Montoya made 30 saves only allowing one goal to lead the Canadiens to a 4-1 victory.
“A bit of nerves coming in, I wasn’t trying to steal the game. I’ve got a good team in front of me. They were fun to watch.” Montoya told CBC after the game.
Montoya was equally impressive against the Senators on Saturday night. Although the Habs lost the game in a shootout, Montoya gave the shaky Canadiens a chance to win the game. For a back-up goaltender, that’s all you can ask for.
Perhaps the most difficult game without Price came against the Pittsburgh Penguins when the
Canadiens hosted their home opener. Even without the best player in the world in Sidney Crosby, the Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champions and were coming into what was sure to be a high-energy, fast-paced game. However, the spotlight couldn’t shake Montoya that night and he earned his 6th career shutout, first as a Canadien in a 4-0 win over Pittsburgh.
The early returns on Montoya look good. He’s been better than anyone expected and, most importantly, the team looks confident in front of him. Last season, as well as Mike Condon performed, on most nights the Canadiens looked shaky in front of him. While Price’s confidence is almost contagious, Condon never seemed to have that affect on his team, which isn’t fair to him based on the circumstances he was thrown into. However, Montoya has that calm veteran presence, similar to that of Price, and the Habs feed off it.
2016-17 Season Workload
One of the Habs’ goals this season and every season for that matter is to reach the playoffs with a healthy Price. More often than not, when the Canadiens reach the playoffs Price is either hurt or is hurt during their quest for the Cup.
As of now, Montoya is going to start roughly 20-22 games for the Canadiens this season, as the Habs would like to keep Price around the 60-game mark. Of course, depending on how the season goes for the Canadiens that number could change. Judging by the way Montoya played in Price’s absence and the desperate need for the Habs to have a healthy Price come playoff time, it’s easy to predict that Montoya will get a few more games.
For example, last season Montoya played 25 games for the Florida Panthers posting a 12-7-2 record. During his career, he’s handled a workload of up to 31 games as recently as 2011-12. We can’t get too ahead of ourselves as we’ve only been through the first two weeks of the young 2016-17 season, however, if Montoya’s early play is any sign of how he will handle his role in a Canadiens’ uniform then the Habs should be ecstatic.
What to Expect
The one thing I noticed during Montoya’s three starts, and I alluded to this above, is the confidence of the team when he’s in net. When Price takes the crease, the Habs there is this sense that they, essentially, don’t have to worry about pucks going in their net. I guess having the best goaltender in the world will give you that type of confidence. With Mike Condon last year, it was thrown out the window.
Condon came to Montreal as an unproven rookie and was thrown into an impossible situation. Canadiens’ management didn’t release the official Price news until late in the season, so the Habs never fully embraced Condon as the starter of their team. The season was a disaster as we all know and Condon was put on waivers and is now a Penguin.
This season, when Price isn’t in the lineup, the Canadiens are showing that they are all-in on Montoya. Through his first three starts, it seems Montoya has the trust of his teammates to get the job done which goes a long way in the National Hockey League, especially in Montreal.
Nick Guido is a Montreal Canadiens Contributor for The Hockey Writers. You can Follow him on Twitter @nickguidoTHW for his articles, opinions and general Habs talk.