When a goaltender shuts out the opposition, it’s rarely seen as a problem.
But minor-leaguer Charlie Lindgren’s performance in Chicago Sunday night could pose a dilemma for the Canadiens’ brass.
In a perfect world, the 23-year-old Lindgren would spend the entire season with the Laval Rocket, filling in occasionally at the NHL level when the team runs into injury problems.
That was the case on the weekend. After Carey Price went to the sidelines with what the team has described as a minor lower-body injury, Lindgren was recalled from the Rocket.
Lindgren started against the Chicago Blackhawks and, while he carried a 3-0 NHL record into the game, it’s not a stretch to say Lindgren exceeded expectations. Matched against potentially explosive players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp and defenceman Duncan Keith, Lindgren lowered the decibel level in the NHL’s loudest building with a 38-save, 2-0 shutout.
Most players are going to have that one night when everything falls into place, but Lindgren’s statistics over a small sample size — a 4-0 record with a 1.24 goals-against average and .960 save percentage — indicate Lindgren is a very good goaltender.
And therein lies the problem.
Going back to that perfect world, Lindgren would be on the métro back to Laval as soon as Price is ready to play, which is not Tuesday night when the Canadiens open a six-game homestand with a game against the expansion Vegas Golden Knights (7:30 p.m. TSN2, RDS, TN-690). Look for Lindgren to start that game and, if he keeps winning, wait for the goaltender controversy to heat up.
It might prove to be a distraction, but coaches are fond of talking about the importance of internal competition and that’s what we have here.
Nobody should doubt that Carey Price will regain the form that made him the best — and highest-paid — goaltender in the world, but he has been going through a funk and hasn’t played well. Al Montoya has found a way to win, which is what backup goalies are supposed to do. But they are each giving up nearly four goals a game and the Canadiens’ defence is tied for 27th in the NHL.
If Lindgren can do the job, he should play and it shouldn’t matter if the other goalies have one-way contracts and Lindgren has a two-way deal that makes it easy to move him between Montreal and Laval.
The win Sunday was the third in a four-game road stretch and the Canadiens have gone from being road-kill to a playoff contender. They have won five of their last seven games and are only three points out of a playoff position.
Coach Claude Julien said a big part of the turnaround has been the improved play of the defence led by Shea Weber. He was on the ice for 27:55 Sunday night, after topping 29 minutes in Saturday’s overtime win in Winnipeg.
“He’s a heart-and-soul guy, especially on the back end,” Julien said. ”He’s a big guy, he logs lots of minutes, whether it’s power play or killing penalties or playing 5-on-5 against the top lines. I’m not going to hide it — there’s no doubt I want to bring his minutes down and we’ve got some guys back there who are starting to find their games again. They’re the kind of defencemen we know they can be and, by doing that, it will help us balance the ice better, especially for Shea.
“You look at (Jordie) Benn tonight, he was much better,” Julien added. “And (Jeff) Petry is coming along and Karl (Alzner) is starting to feel more comfortable with what we do here versus what he’s been doing for all these years. We have to give credit to (Joe) Morrow and it’s not just because he had goal and an assist. Even (Saturday) night he’s a guy who moved the puck well, defended well. He was never the highlight of anything, which is a good thing for a defenceman.”
And then there’s rookie Victor Mete who “moves the puck well and supports the attack.” The Canadiens like the 19-year-old and have told him to find a place to live for the season, but he was bounced off the top pair with Weber and replaced by Benn. His ice time declined in Winnipeg after he was outmuscled in a battle behind the net on the Jets’ second goal and Julien is trying to spot him in situations where he has more opportunity to succeed.
There will be shakeup on the defence in the near future. David Schlemko, who has yet to play a game for the Canadiens, is recovering from hand surgery but should be back within two weeks.
The one low moment on the Canadiens’ trip was a 6-3 loss in Minnesota and Julien is happy that the Canadiens won’t have to wait long for another crack at the Wild, who will visit the Bell Centre on Thursday.
“The fresher those memories (of the loss) are, the better so it’s certainly not a bad thing,” Julien said of the scheduling.