With Phase 3 started and the Montreal Canadiens’ camp in full swing, the most promising sign so far has been the goaltending. Carey Price looks like he’s in top form and the three goalies joining him are making highlight-reel saves during practice as well.
With Charlie Lindgren, Micheal McNiven, and Cayden Primeau all in camp, the big question is who will win the backup job for the play-in series against the Penguins?
Lindgren probably has the inside track to the backup job, due to the fact that he had the job when the season was paused. He also has the most NHL experience – this doesn’t mean he is guaranteed the spot, just that it’s his to lose. During the regular season, Lindgren was called up from the Laval Rocket to replace a struggling Keith Kinkaid, in the hopes that Kinkaid could find his form in the AHL – that never happened (from ‘Stung by demotion, Kinkaid hopes hard work leads him back to Canadiens,’ Montreal Gazette, 12/19/2019). Lindgren didn’t do anything to impress while he was with the Canadiens but still ended up being a better option than Kinkaid.
Lindgren’s stats in both the NHL and AHL are nothing to brag about. While with Laval, he had seven wins and a .893 save percentage (SV%), in 16 games, and in Montreal two wins and a .888 SV%. His career stats in the NHL are better, with a .907 SV% and 10 wins in 24 games, which is promising and the big reason why he is the frontrunner for the job.
Lindgren’s biggest issues are his rebound control and puck vision. Although the job is his to lose, it’s not because he is the most capable. The Canadiens don’t have a reliable backup in their system yet, and Lindgren is – for now anyway – just the most experienced option.
Primeau has had a lot of success in his first year as a pro with the Laval Rocket. He was named to the AHL All-Rookie team and was a huge factor in Laval’s success this season. He posted a .908 SV% with 17 wins and four shutouts (SO) in 33 games, clearly winning the starting job over Kinkaid, who was loaned to the Charlotte Checkers as a result. Primeau, who was drafted 199th overall in 2017, also played two games for the Canadiens looking solid in both of them and winning one.
Primeau is the fan-favorite to play not just for the series against the Penguins, but to be the heir apparent to Price. Some fans even want him to be the backup next season, although the best option for him is probably another season in Laval. For now, Primeau is just taking in the experience and learning everything he can to improve his game. This season – at both the NHL and AHL levels – Primeau played better than Lindgren, however, his level of experience could cost him the job.
McNiven is the long shot to get the backup job. After playing 55 games between 2017 and 2019 with Laval, he found himself on the outside looking in with the arrival of Primeau. This season, McNiven played with four different ECHL hockey teams, due to the fact the Canadiens did not have an ECHL affiliate at the time. It wasn’t until Kinkaid was loaned to Charlotte that McNiven got ice time with Laval. In his three games before the AHL canceled the rest of the season he posted a sparkling .919 SV% and won all three contests.
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Before this season, McNiven found moderate success in Laval in 55 games – he won 17 and had a SV% of .890. This season in the ECHL, McNiven played 23 games, winning 10 with a .918 SV%, these are not bad numbers considering he bounced around to four different teams.
As stated earlier McNiven is the long shot to win the backup job – not only does he have no NHL experience, but he’s not better than the other two. It would have been nice to see how good he could’ve been if he played an entire season with one team and not moved around so much in the minors.
The Final Results
In a five games series, it really won’t matter who the backup will be – Carey Price will likely end up playing every minute of every game. The key to this is the experience all three goalies will gain with the training camp and practices. I would love to say the NHL playoff atmosphere, too, but it will be hard to determine what that will be with no fans.
The only factor the Canadiens coaching staff needs to think about when it comes to goaltending is who can step up if Price gets injured. Lindgren has the most NHL experience, Primeau is probably the best of the three, and McNiven could be the surprise. The choice isn’t as easy as one would think, though McNiven is probably out, so that takes it down to Lindgren and Primeau.
If I were the coach, I would have Primeau as the backup, the biggest reason being that he is the future backup and hopefully starter. Knowing Claude Julien, however, I see him going with Lindgren. Either way, for the Canadiens’ sake, Price will stay healthy and it won’t matter.
Trege Wilson lives in Nova Scotia and is a member of the RCN. He is a life long Habs fan and is creator and co-host of the popular Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered.