The final buzzer of the 2015-16 season sounded at the Bell Centre. The Montreal Canadiens failed to qualify for the playoffs, and have consequentially let their passionate fan base down. Though many fans and analysts are focusing on who to blame, there are a few players that deserve some props. Mike Condon, a rookie goaltender who wasn’t even playing in the AHL two seasons ago (!!), had an impressive season.
The Massachusetts native was thrown into the heart of the fire when the Habs lost reigning league MVP, Carey Price. As Habs fans now know, Price’s injury was severe enough to hold him out until next season. In his mentor’s absence, Condon grew as an NHL rookie, and faced the most intense hockey market in the world like a true professional.
Give Credit Where Credit is Due
In 2013-14, Condon played for the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. In 2015-16, he started 55 games for the most storied franchise in NHL history. At the beginning of the season, the netminder was rightfully shaky and nervous. Over the course of the season, the rookie brushed up on certain aspects of his game that needed improvement (like his lateral movement, for example). While the 25-year-old isn’t fit to be an NHL starter, his season should have earned him some respect from his teammates and his opponents alike. Playing (mostly) sound hockey as a rookie goaltender with the weight of a city on your shoulders isn’t an easy task, though Condon was up to the challenge.
Condon’s stats weren’t amazing this season, but they were adequate considering the scenario that he was thrown into. His 2.71 goals against average and .903 save percentage were respectable considering the team playing in front of him wasn’t performing. The Habs posted a -15 goal differential this season, meaning that they allowed 15 more goals than they scored. Along with the key injury to regular starter, Price, the team suffered many other injuries that held them back both offensively and defensively.
By the end of the season, Condon had to guard the Canadiens’ net with only two defensemen dressed of the six that were part of the opening night lineup. Three of the Habs’ defencemen in the closing stretch of the season had played their first career NHL games just a few weeks ago. The rookie was in charge of backstopping a depleted, discouraged team that at times barely looked like it belonged in the NHL. If it wasn’t already clear, this season didn’t present the most optimal conditions for Condon’s success. The rookie earned his first career shutout when the Habs beat the Lightning 3-0 a few weeks ago.
Being the best goalie in the world’s backup isn’t too much fun. When Price is healthy, he would normally get the vast majority of starts. When Price is injured, the fan base (who aren’t afraid of voicing their opinions or frustrations) expect to see similar quality goaltending out of their backup. Habs fans are used to the best, and this proved to be yet another challenge for the rookie goaltender.
The 25-year-old is by no stretch the league’s best goalie, and is even far from being the league’s best backup. He had some rough moments throughout the season, though he had some bright ones to counterbalance them.
Who would have thought that the unknown goalie who just beat former backup, Dustin Tokarski for a spot on the Canadiens would go on to start more than 50 games for the club. If you ask any Habs fans, they’ll tell you that the worst possible thing that could have happened to the team is to lose their All-Star goalie for an extended period of time. The fact with this team is, the absolute worst case scenario happened this season.
Rookie, Mike Condon was thrown in to try to pick up the pieces of a slowly deteriorating season, and though he wasn’t up to Carey Price’s level, he did everything that he could, considering the scenario that he was thrown into. Condon can play a backup role, as he has proven this season. If used sparsely, he can be trusted to get the job done. This offseason is sure to present a challenge for the Habs and their management, though the backup goalie isn’t a position that’s high on their list of priorities.