Canadiens Get What They Need in Net with Allen in 2022-23

It would be one thing if goalie Jake Allen were in the Vezina Trophy conversation, winning games left, right and center for the Montreal Canadiens. As it happens, he isn’t, simply giving the Habs a chance to win games more often than not. That’s a good thing.

Jake Allen Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens goalie Jake Allen – (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The fact that he’s stealing victories every now and then is less so a bug than a feature of what general manager Kent Hughes signed up for when he extended him up until 2025. Why re-sign a goalie who can’t win you games? If that were the goal, you’d just sign some schmo off the street.

One hypothetical answer to that admittedly rhetorical question is that the Canadiens are rebuilding right now, effectively aiming for a second straight high draft pick. The first part of that sentence is undeniable, while the second may be open for debate. However, when you open the season with a goaltending tandem headlined by a failed starter in Allen who’s enjoyed his greatest success as a backup, all due respect to him, you’re not looking to win, at least not a lot.

Allen Stealing a Few Wins, Not the Show

In spite of the headlines Allen is grabbing from time to time, like when he most recently made 34 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 21, the Canadiens aren’t. Sure, they’re more competitive than they were in 2021-22, but that’s to be expected. Hell, the American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket might have been in their place.

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Technically, the Rocket did actually replace the Canadiens, at least in bits and pieces due to last season’s record-breaking injury situation. However, with the benefit of the chemistry that can only come about from a complete roster with which to work? It’s a safe bet the Rocket would have enjoyed at least slightly more success in the NHL than the Habs in what had been turning into one of the worst seasons in franchise history, at least before Martin St. Louis replaced Dominique Ducharme as head coach.

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With St. Louis at the helm, these Canadiens are obviously a different breed. They’ve got a never-say-die attitude and a winning culture, generally in games until the end, even if the effort level doesn’t always translate to victories. Granted, when it does, the goaltending of Allen and backup Samuel Montembeault is generally a huge contributing factor.

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

However, seeing as the Canadiens are a mediocre 15-15-3, just four points out of 15th place in the Eastern Conference and five out of 28th in the entire league? It’s hard to make a reasonable argument Allen or Montembeault are preventing the Habs from bottoming out for the sake of securing one of the projected generational talents available at the top of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft (Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michkov, etc.).

After all, statistically, Allen has been far from lights-out. He’s 9-12-1 with a 3.27 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. Those aren’t good numbers. The fact that he’s getting as much credit as he is is both a testament to the eye test, i.e., how he’s actually playing from game to game, and the team’s offense, which is able to score with relative regularity. Again, that’s not all on Allen, if there is anyone to actually blame.

Hughes’ Long-Term Vision for Habs

It’s definitely not on Hughes, just the opposite. Hughes deserves credit for putting in place team that’s as exciting to watch as the Habs have been in 2022-23 (with his predecessor Marc Bergevin obviously also having had a hand… just arguably without as much long-term vision as Hughes has demonstrated with the moves he’s made).

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The Canadiens can obviously benefit from a top-three draft pick, which a last-place finish would guarantee (based on current NHL Draft Lottery rules). However, that’s not how rebuilds generally work. Some level of year-over-year progress is expected, and that’s exactly what fans are getting out of the Canadiens as we speak.

What the Canadiens are getting out of Allen is a goalie in whom they have a great deal of trust not to give up a bad goal and that he will be there to cover up mistakes from time to time. They maybe don’t to the same degree they did in a now-retired (unofficially speaking) Carey Price in his prime, but that’s to be expected. Price was arguably a generational talent in his own right.

Carey Price Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Allen’s not Price, but he is certainly giving Hughes his money’s worth, even if the raise to a cap hit of $3.85 million that comes into effect next season (from $2.875 million) maybe wasn’t justified. You have to believe all parties involved knew what was coming though, with Allen set to start the lion’s share of games as the team’s de facto starter during the rebuild… even if Montembeault currently enjoys a statistical edge.

If the Canadiens were hellbent on making the playoffs, you’d expect them to play Montembeault more than they have, with Allen having effectively started twice as many games. However, the playoffs are logically more so a nice-to than must-have at this stage, because rushing the rebuild, putting the Habs in a position where they become buyers instead of sellers at the trade deadline, clearly isn’t the ultimate goal this season. All that would do is put the team’s long-term competitive prospects at risk.

Right now, Allen gives them the stabilizing presence they need in nets, even if he’s little more than a stop-gap measure, meant to bridge the gap between Price and the team’s goalie of the future. It remains to be seen who that is, but it’s a safe bet Hughes knows what he’s doing and, if it isn’t current-prospect Cayden Primeau, the former will do what needs to be done to secure the rights to that goalie in the near future. Once Hughes does, you similarly have to believe that goalie will be properly insulated and brought along the right way. That would be in large part thanks to Allen.