With the Habs off to a dismal start to the 2021-22 season, it’s time to review and grade their early-season performances. This article will focus on the goaltenders and defencemen.
Players must have played in a minimum of five games to receive a grade
Jake Allen – Grade: C+
Stats: 14 GP, 4W, 8L, 2 shutouts, 2.78 GAA, .905 SV%
Grade Comments: I am not a big fan of Allen but I have to admit he exceeded my expectations for this first quarter of the season. Most of the losses the team suffered when Jake started was due to the rest of the team giving him very little support, both in terms of goals scored and defensive support. It’s incredible to believe he earned two shutouts! Those were two games when the rest of the team showed up to play. He still gives up the occasional weak goal but few of his losses were the direct result of those softies. Unfortunately, Allen suffered a concussion due to a terrible decision by Jeff Petry to hit an opponent forward directly into Allen while he was in the crease. It’s expected that Allen will be back in the nets to start the second quarter.
Samuel Montembeault – Grade: F
Stats: 7 GP, 1W, 3L, 1 OTL, 3.58 GAA, .897%
Grade Comments: When I heard Montreal claimed Montembeault, I was disappointed. The team had two capable young pros in the minors with Cayden Primeau and Michael McNiven. Since I knew nothing about Samuel, I first thought he was more experienced than Montreal’s goaltending prospects. Unfortunately, I discovered he’s the same age as Primeau and two years younger than McNiven. In the games Samuel has started, the majority of the goals he let in were his own fault; he was either out of position, did not manage the rebound well, did not track the puck well, did not anticipate the shooter, or was simply fooled on the shot despite being in position. Simply put, he is not an NHL goalie. Claiming him is a huge slap in the face to guys like McNiven and Primeau who could have easily managed the backup role. In my opinion, this is another example of poor player development by the Habs organization, since using McNiven or Primeau as the backup goalie would have provided them with an incentive to show how they can play and could have provided valuable NHL level experience. Instead, that was given to a player that Montreal will likely put back on waivers by the time both Carey Price and Allen are ready to play. Hopefully, another team will claim him when that happens.
Chris Wideman – Grade: C+
Stats: 15 GP, 2G, 6A, +1, 14 Hits, 9 Bks, 21 Shots, 14:43 TOI
Grade Comments: The hope when Wideman was signed to a contract was that the mobile defender could provide some offence and improve the power play. It has taken him some time to adapt, partially due to missing a stretch of four games in October when he was a healthy scratch. Chris provided six points in the last five games of the quarter so he seems to have got back up to the NHL style of play after playing the past few seasons in the KHL. Although he did not start the season with much time on the power play, after Jeff Petry’s struggles, that has started to change. The whole team has been dismal in the power play as they are at the bottom of the league and Wideman has helped a little with that. What is difficult to understand was that he was also a healthy scratch for the November 18th game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That night the team were shut out and allowed six goals, which was arguably one of the team’s worst losses for the first quarter. I would much rather see David Savard made a healthy scratch than Wideman, who can actually contribute something positive to this team.
Ben Chiarot – Grade: C
Stats: 20 GP, 4G, 1A, -5, 18 PIM, 46 Hits, 38 Bks, 36 Shots, 23:01 TOI
Grade Comments: Much like the rest of the team, Chiarot has struggled during the early go of this season. It is easy to say that he misses Shea Weber, his usual partner for most of the past few seasons. Chiarot has been inconsistent so far but during the last few weeks, Ben has been more engaged and willing to jump up into the play to help the offence. This has led to an increase in his goal production, and he is on pace for a career season in that category if he can keep it up. Since Chiarot is in the last year of his contract and given the unlikely odds the Habs currently have at making the playoffs, it’s very likely that he will be Montreal’s best trade deadline asset to deal to a contending team.
Alexander Romanov – Grade: C
Stats: 19 GP, 1G, -1A, -4 9 PIM, 59 Hits, 26 Bks, 21 Shots, 17:35 TOI
Grade Comments: Romanov has been gradually given more responsibility and ice time as the season progressed. He has shown a penchant for throwing at least one big check every game and has picked his spots well since I have not seen him get caught out of position after doing so. Alexander was a healthy scratch after the November 2nd game and since returning to the lineup, he has been steadier. I would like to see him shoot the puck more. That’s not because he has a blazing shot, but because his release is deceptive and has sometimes surprised a goalie, leading to a good scoring opportunity.
Sami Niku – Grade: C
Stats: 5 GP, 0G, 2A, +3, 2 PIM, 3 Hits, 4 Bks, 4 Shots, 14:33 TOI
Grade Comments: My first impression of Niku was during one of the Habs exhibition games where he was terrible defensively. Later in that game, he was hit from behind and left with a concussion. The early reports on Niku was that he had some offensive tools but his defensive game needed some work. When Wideman was made a healthy scratch during the third week of October, it was Niku that was his substitute for those four games, where he managed two assists and was a plus-three. He was scratched for another game, got back into the lineup for one game then didn’t return to the lineup for the rest of the quarter. If the team wants to inject more offence and mobility into their lineup, then they have to find a way to get Niku and Wideman both into the lineup at the same time. Sami just makes the HabsWorld cut off for a grade, so I would like to see more of his play before getting a stronger gauge of him as a defenceman. An interesting note, when Sami was in the lineup in the quarter, the Canadiens have a winning record of three wins against two losses. No other Habs defenceman can make that claim.
Brett Kulak – Grade: C-
Stats: 20 GP, 0G, 5A, -5, 4 PIM, 18 Hits, 12 Bks, 20 Shots, 16:23 TOI
Grade Comments: Kulak has played better than most of his fellow blueliners. During the five-game losing streak to start the season, he and Wideman were the only defenders to not have a negative plus/minus. He is on pace for a 20-point season, which would be a career-best. Brett was injured in the last game of this quarter and is expected to miss at least three games. I was hoping with the losses of Weber and Joel Edmundson to start this season, Kulak would step up given a bigger role and more ice time. So far I see the same inconsistent play from him that I have nearly every other season with Montreal.
Jeff Petry – Grade: D-
Stats: 20 GP, 0G, 6A, -2, 6 PIM, 38 Hits, 23 Bks, 30 Shots, 23:48 TOI
Grade Comments: What has happened to Jeff Petry?! He has gone from being in the conversation for the Norris trophy during the first half of last season to not showing up for this team when they need him most. Granted, Petry was thrust into the number one defenceman role with Weber gone and his usual partner Edmundson missing every game so far. What’s troubling beside the lack of offence is the mental defensive lapses he has shown too often in the first twenty games. This is the Petry that was the focus of negative attention from Edmonton Oilers fans before being traded to Montreal in 2015. I wonder if Petry realizes that without Weber in the lineup, he is the number one defender on the blueline and that he’s not ready for that responsibility? Another theory that has come up recently, is that Petry has not fully recovered from injuries he played through during the playoffs. If that is accurate, then we may not see the real Petry until after the Olympic break in February, or perhaps the start of next season.
David Savard – Grade: F
Stats: GP, 0G, 4A, -7, 6 PIM, 38 Hits, 35 Bks, 15 Shots, 19:17 TOI
Grade Comments: If there was a grade lower than an F, I would give that to Savard. His decision making without the puck in defensive situations has been horrendous and he was touted as a steady defensive player. The last time I saw such a terrible free agent signing defenceman by the Habs was Karl Alzner. The best thing I can say about Savard is that Ben Chiarot also had a rocky first quarter to his start after signing with Montreal before he turned his game around. After he improved his play, I recall him mentioning to the media that it took him some time to adapt to the Canadiens system. So I hope David will follow that same turnaround to his game; otherwise, the Habs will be stuck with another albatross for a contract and a huge defensive liability that is basically untradeable.