He came, he conquered..
Goaltender Mike Condon stole the backup position in Montreal from Dustin Tokarski. He really did steal it. Condon impressed in pre-season competition and training camp. Tokarski only helped Condon’s case for the backup position with his weak play last year, along with an unimpressive pre-season in 2015. Dustin Tokarski finished last year with a 0.910 save percentage in 17 games with the Canadiens.
Somewhat of a fan-favourite in Montreal at the beginning of his time with the big club, 5’11 Tokarski is now suiting up for the St. John’s Ice Caps of the AHL- where he currently holds a save percentage of 0.903 through 5 games.
Condon, who was never even drafted into the NHL, has played in the ECHL as recently as 2014. Tokarski is a fifth round draft pick who has never played a game in the ECHL. Condon stealing the job from Tokarski came as a bit of a shock to some people in the hockey world.
NHL Debut- Game #1 vs. Ottawa
Making his NHL debut in Ottawa, Condon looked good and made some big saves. Most notably, here’s one of him robbing Erik Karlsson, making a cross-crease save while exchanging sticks with PK Subban. It was pretty incredible:
His only goal against in his debut vs. Ottawa was a shaky one in which he made the initial save on a good shot, but lost the puck in his equipment, causing the puck to eventually trickle into the net. Here is a video of Condibear’s first NHL goal against, scored by Jean-Gabriel Pageau, shorthanded:
Game #2 vs. Buffalo
In his second NHL start, Condon helped the Habs beat up on a struggling Sabres team. Montreal won the game 7-2, but Condon looked a little off on this night. The best way to describe his play in this game is a comment made by Sportsnet analyst PJ Stock. PJ made the comment at one of the intermissions, “I’m going to make up a term here, but, Condon looks slippery out there to me. He’s sliding a lot.”
Slippery. And slippery he was. Watching the game, Mike Condon was sliding across his goal crease, in and out of position quite often. In a game where the Sabres were rifling shots off the goal posts all night long, he looked unorthodox, especially for an NHL goaltender. Watching his game vs. Buffalo brought into question, for me, whether he will be able handle the speed of the game at the NHL level.
Here’s one example of his slippery behaviour on a nice save made on Zemgus Girgensons:
It is a nice save. Let’s give him credit for it. But let’s take a critical approach to the save for the sake of argument. His movement from side-to-side looks awkward and almost as if it’s in slow motion. He looks as if he almost just fell into the shot from Girgensons. If Girgensons puts that puck in the open part of the net up top (yes, it was quite open), that shot goes in.
The Canadiens won 7-2 and Condon saved 34 out of 36 shots. So, take this quibble for what it’s worth. He played a good game. Nitpicking at a goaltender who finished the game with a 0.944 save percentage…great idea, right?
Game #3 vs. Calgary
Getting the nod in Calgary on Friday night, Condon once again received plenty of goal support from his teammates – in his three starts, the Canadiens have scored an average of 5.33 goals per game. He played well against the Flames and made some key saves when the game was still close. The Canadiens backup seemed to struggle at times with staying in position (enough with the complaints already…he’s 3-0-0). Here’s one example of slipperiness from the first period:
Mike Condon has areas of his game to improve, which is fine. It’s a learning process. He will improve. Working alongside Carey Price and Stephane Waite is a luxury that other backup goaltenders in the league do not have. The tools are at his disposable. His work ethic has been well documented. He’s hungry to prove that he belongs in the NHL. It was not an easy road to the NHL for Mike Condon, but he’s here now.
With three regulation wins in his first three NHL starts and a save percentage of 0.944, it’s tough to nitpick at things. He is doing a good job so far backing up Carey Price. Although his outstanding numbers won’t remain constant, Condon will only improve as a goaltender over time. He seems to be a little jumpy or anxious in high-danger scoring situations, causing him to slide out of position often. Staying calm and composed in the crease is easier said than done, but stabilizing that facet of his game would only amplify his case of belonging as a goaltender in the NHL. He has a lot to prove still in his young NHL career. Three games into it, he shows promise.
Carey Price played through the playoffs last year with a sore back. Sufficient rest for Price by the end of the regular season could be the key to a deep Stanley Cup run for the Canadiens. If Condon keeps up the good work, he could prove to be a valuable piece of the puzzle in Montreal.