The circumstances are definitely unique, with Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price entering the NHL’s player assistance program. However, for all intents and purposes, the Canadiens have been here before, having to rely on backup Jake Allen. There’s every reason to believe the Habs will more than make do as a result, in Price’s absence.
Why Canadiens Got Jake Allen
This is in large part why the Canadiens got Jake Allen, after all: to have a goalie on whom they can depend when Price can’t go, for one reason or another. Granted, few probably saw this coming, with general manager Marc Bergevin reportedly only having heard this past Wednesday of the news Price was seeking help for an undisclosed condition. Not that Price’s ailment must be defined. He’s entitled to his privacy of course. Nor does it impact the mission facing Allen and the Habs.
It’s fairly simple. Survive the 30 days at least (based on the nature of the program) Price is out, with Allen as the team’s starter. The saying goes you can’t make the playoffs in October, but you can miss them, so the Habs, who are fresh off a run to the Stanley Cup Final, must at the very least tread water for a month before Price returns.
Sure, the Canadiens need Price, but they need a healthy Price above all else. When Price suffered a concussion late last season, he took the required amount of time to get back into game shape, in spite of the fact the Canadiens were in a perpetual free fall, hanging onto a playoff spot for dear life.
The Canadiens survived then. Allen even won the Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy as the team’s unsung hero at the end of the season, having effectively taken over starter’s duties with over a month to go due to the concussion and a separate lower-body injury on Price’s part. So, they should survive now.
Canadiens’ Depth the Net out Being Tested
It should be pointed out Allen’s stats over that final month were far from impressive. He went 6-9-1 down the stretch with an .896 save percentage. However, there were extenuating circumstances in the form of critical injuries to key personnel. In addition to Price, Brendan Gallagher, Shea Weber, Phillip Danault and Jonathan Drouin all missed time (to name the most significant players who were injured).
True, there’s a tinge of Groundhog Day in the air, considering both Price and Weber are unavailable. Paul Byron is only poised to return after hip surgery in a matter of months, while Mike Hoffman and Joel Edmundson should miss a few weeks each. To add insult to injury, depth additions Cedric Paquette and Sami Niku are also out.
However, the Canadiens are better poised to deal with this slew of injuries than they were last year. Byron, like Paquette and Niku, is a depth player at this stage of his tenure with the Canadiens. He should be easily replaceable, all due respect to him. Meanwhile, even though there’s no completely replacing Weber, the Canadiens did acquire David Savard for this eventuality.
Finally, Jeff Petry has a history of elevating the games of anyone with whom he plays, with Brett Kulak and Edmundson himself serving as proof to that effect. He should be able to do the same alongside Alexander Romanov, who’s projected to fill in as his partner for the time being. In fact, it could conceivably be better in the long term for the Habs to give Romanov some additional responsibility.
That isn’t to suggest the Canadiens wouldn’t or shouldn’t prefer to have any of the above names back healthy. However, Hoffman is really the only one whose absence will really come back to hurt them, and, as a recent free-agent acquisition, they don’t really know what they have in him yet.
Allen vs. Price
Of course, the longer the Canadiens go without Price specifically, the worse off they’ll be. Allen has been given the opportunity to be a starter in the NHL before and ended up suffering from a lack of consistency, ultimately losing the job with the St. Louis Blues to Jordan Binnington. However, in short spurts, he should be all right.
With that in mind, it should be made explicit, this is all dependent on Price returning to the form he displayed last playoffs. Last regular season, Price stumbled out of the starting gates, with Allen even posting vastly superior statistics early on, many calling on the Habs to play the backup more as a result. A month in, Allen was 4-2-1 with a .932 save percentage, after all.
Allen will obviously be expected to play more than just seven games, with 17 games scheduled in the one month from the point at which the regular season starts (just for good measure). However, one game is against the expansion Seattle Kraken and another 10 are against teams that missed the playoffs last season.
Needless to say, there is never a good time for circumstances like these to arise, but, assuming Price is able to get back to where he needs to be, there is no time like the present. There are obviously bigger issues at play here and no one should lose sight of what’s most important, i.e., Price’s long-term health. In the short term though, he’s left the crease in Allen’s capable hands, reinforcing the sentiment that no one should be concerned with what ends up happening on the ice. It’s off it, where everyone’s thoughts should be.
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 written for such publications as 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 cover the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.