Canadiens Goalies Allen, Montembeault the Big Difference for Habs

There was a point at which the Montreal Canadiens’ 7-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 29 was far from in the bag. There were actually several points, with the Habs at one time trailing 3-1, but, even after they had bounced back to take a 6-3 lead in the third period on the strength of two of Christian Dvorak’s eventual three goals on the night, things got tense.

Allen Holds the Fort

Vladimir Tarasenko pulled the Blues within two less than three minutes into the third to make it 6-4. So, there was plenty of time for the Blues to catch up, especially seeing as the Hab had scored their previous five goals in just over 10 minutes of playing time. However, from the Tarasenko goal forward, Habs goalie Jake Allen held the fort

Jake Allen Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens goalie Jake Allen – (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Overall though, it was maybe Allen’s worst game of the season, against his former team no less. It’s a telling assessment since he still got the job done in spite of allowing four goals, making several big saves down the stretch. For all intents and purposes, Allen’s been very good, proving to be a difference-maker more often than not, even if there’s a case to be made that against the Blues the offense bailed him out instead.

It’s a stark reminder how stats don’t tell the whole story, as Allen is officially a fairly mediocre 3-3 with a 2.85 goals-against average (GAA) and .909 save percentage (SV%). It also goes to show that the Habs can’t rely on Allen to get them out of trouble all season long.

Canadiens Show Limited Progress

Now at 5-4, the Canadiens are definitely exceeding initial expectations for another chance at an NHL Draft Lottery win. There’s legitimate progress being made season over season, but, having finished in last place in 2021-22 as one of the worst teams in franchise history for long stretches, that was likely always going to be the case. To put in perspective how much further the Canadiens have to go before they’re truly competitive though, they’re still in just sixth place in the Atlantic Division. And, as good as Allen and backup Samuel Montembeault have been, it’s unlikely to last.

Look to Allen specifically as proof. He’s already experiencing regression to the mean after earning a .938 SV% through his first three appearances of the season. A career .911 goalie, Allen should never have been expected to keep up his early-season pace, which is why no one should read too much into the Canadiens’ relatively impressive start to the season, other than as reassurance the Habs are on the right track as far as the rebuild is concerned.

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In fact, the current state of the team’s goaltending (at least on paper) is one surefire sign the rebuild is still on, with Carey Price arguably as good as unofficially retired. Keep in mind, Allen lost his No. 1 spot in net with the Blues to Jordan Binnington back in 2018-19, the same Binnington who’s struggled to stay in the conversation of top starters since. That isn’t to say Allen is horrible, just miscast in the role of starter due to apparent endurance issues that have been prevalent for years, including his last few with the Habs, which have featured multiple injuries.

Canadiens Set with Allen, Montembeault for Time Being

So, it’s almost by design that Allen’s performance wanes over time. If he is the one the Canadiens have decided to make their starter, and his two-year, $7.7 million extension indicates as much, they’re not exactly looking to contend in the next few years. Maybe by 2025, when his contract is up, assuming the Habs can successfully navigate the three-team no-trade list to which he’s entitled, but not before.

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True, they still have Montembeault on the cheap and if, on the off chance he emerges as anything other than the third-string goalie he’s proven himself to be over the course of his career up to this point, the Canadiens can theoretically ice a formidable, cost-effective on-two punch in net. And, to Montembeault’s credit, as impressive as Allen’s been, his backup’s been that much more at 2-1 with a 2.32 GAA and .931 SV%. However, keep in mind Montembeault’s been a professional hockey player for six seasons now and has a career .894 SV% in the NHL to his name.

Sam Montembeault Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens goalie Samuel Montembeault – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

So, it wouldn’t so much be betting against Montembeault as betting on the rebuild and the alleged bid for a second straight high draft pick to go as smoothly as possible. As it stands, everything looks like it’s going according to plan, even if the Habs are a respectable 5-4 right now, but, even if the Habs’ offense was expected to be a strong point this 2022-23 season, it won’t be scoring seven goals with any kind of regularity. Just brace for a lot of four-goal nights on the other end of the scoresheet, regardless of how well Allen/Montembeault play. It’s all part of the process.

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