Before the start of this 2020-21 season, everyone anticipated newly acquired goalie Jake Allen having a positive impact on the Montreal Canadiens. The logical assumption had been it wouldn’t be that great of one, at least not directly, though.
After all, if he, as a backup, ended up being a huge difference-maker, it would only have meant something terrible had gone wrong. For all intents and purposes, it did.
Canadiens Suffer Through Disappointing Season
While the Canadiens’ 2020-21 season could have gone worse, Allen entered Wednesday action with a mediocre 11-12-5 record. He has played 29 games to starter Carey Price’s 25. Needless to say, this not how the season, in which the Canadiens started out 5-0-2, but ultimately just barely earned a playoff spot, was supposed to go.
To be clear, Allen has rightfully earned the Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy he won Wednesday, with the award effectively going to the team’s unsung hero. The fact that he did is a testament to the degree to which he stepped up, especially over the course of the last few months, with Price having been sidelined on two separate occasions down the stretch, once due to a lower-body injury, once due to a concussion.
“We’re a better team with Carey in our lineup,” Allen said at a press conference, during which he was made available to the media to discuss the announcement. “My job is to come in here and play a role that, whether he was healthy or not, was to support him, support the team… when he was either having a rest or in this case… injured. That was my objective all year long. Nothing really changed whether we were with Carey or without Carey, just trying to give the boys a chance every night.”
Canadiens Over-Rely on Allen
In Allen’s defense, his stat line doesn’t necessarily reflect the effort he put forth every night. He was solid. It more so reflects the team’s lack of results, especially with him in the lineup. Of his 17 total losses, 15 came in games in which the Habs scored two goals or less.
More to the point, of his 11 wins, four (over a third) came in games in which the Canadiens failed to score more than two goals in regulation. Two more of those wins, a 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers and a 7-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks, came during that infamous 5-0-2 start, when the goals were flowing fast and furiously. Ever since, the Canadiens have scored 122 goals in 48 games, or 2.54 per game, an average that would be ranked No. 27 in the league.
So, it’s no surprise the Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy didn’t go to anyone up front, that’s for sure. However, that’s only in retrospect, with general manager Marc Bergevin having retooled his lineup over the offseason to give it more depth and offensive punch.
Furthermore, if at the start of the season someone would have told you the award would go to a goalie, they probably would have looked at you funny. Indeed, not only is this the first time in the award’s history, which dates back to 1981-82, that a goalie has won it, but the mere notion that a goalie could play “a dominant role during the regular season” and go largely unheralded is almost anti-thetical in its nature. After all, they’re in the spotlight every game.
That Allen won it in as a backup, proves this season hasn’t gone according to plan, especially with him having played more often than Price. With that in mind and all due respect to Allen and the level of play he consistently displayed, the announcement simply underscores just how disappointing the team as a whole has been.
Allen Earns His Pay as Backup
Allen came as advertised, as the backup the Canadiens needed in order to give Price a rest. The undeniable truth is the Canadiens obviously needed a lot more this season. Yes, there were extenuating circumstances including an unprecedented schedule in which the Habs played 25 games in 43 days. However, the Habs had been largely mediocre up to that point, so it shouldn’t be an excuse.
It’s more so simply understandable the Canadiens have staggered to the finish line as they did. No one could have looked at their first half of the season and assumed they would finish the schedule strong in the context of the all the adversity they faced. However, simply securing a playoff berth by the skin of their teeth doesn’t mean they’ve overcome it, at least not yet.
The Canadiens still have a lot to prove, largely that the depth for which they were celebrated for having at the start of the season extends beyond the net. Allen has done his part. It’s up to everyone else to pick up their games come the playoffs to ensure this season doesn’t end up a complete disappointment. Thankfully, there’s still hope. Allen’s at least one reason for that.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.