There weren’t a lot of bright spots throughout last season in Montreal but Samuel Montembeault was one of them. The netminder took a step forward in his performance, leading some to wonder if he has more improvement to come in 2023-24.
Montembeault entered last season as the clear second option behind veteran Jake Allen. He made just three appearances in October and five in November. But a funny thing happened – Montreal won five of those games while picking up the loser point in another. With a .924 SV% in those games, Montembeault was outperforming Allen but it wasn’t resulting in a lot of playing time. Even in December, he made just four appearances although he struggled considerably in two of those, ending the calendar year on a bit of a down note.
However, head coach Martin St. Louis committed to trying to find more playing time for Montembeault and when Allen was injured in early January, the opening was created. Montembeault played eight games in that three-week stretch and was quite impressive, putting up a .930 SV% even with Montreal’s injuries starting to pile up.
Unfortunately for Montembeault, he wasn’t quite able to maintain that level of performance (or anywhere close to it) in the second half of the season. After the All-Star break, he played in 18 games (five more than Allen who also dealt with an injury the final few weeks) but his save percentage plummeted to just .891 in those three months as the reality of playing out the stretch took its toll.
Generally, I wouldn’t mention the World Championship in this segment but Montembeault eventually accepted Canada’s invitation to play for them in the tournament. That wound up being a wise decision as he had a stellar performance in the event, posting a GAA of just 1.42 and a SV% of .939. Granted, this was not a collection of top-end talent but it was a nice way to finish up his year on a high note in some meaningful games.
Stats: 40 GP, 16-19-3 record, 3.42 GAA, .901 SV%, 0 SO
4 Year Averages
(The stats for 2019-20 have been extrapolated to an 82-game rate even though Montembeault wasn’t up for those entire seasons. Montembeault didn’t play in the NHL during the 2020-21 campaign.)
OT/SO Losses: 3
Unlike skaters, there’s only so much to really go through here. Did Montembeault do enough last year to enter this season as the 1A option? Perhaps but I’m not sure it’s by a significant margin, even with MoneyPuck’s oft-cited stat that Montembeault was 13th in the league in Goals Saved Above Expected (+11.8) while Allen was 71st (-1.9). I don’t think they’re making Allen one of the highest-paid true backups in the league so even if it’s Montembeault’s net on opening night, I don’t expect the games played split to be too significant; it’ll be close to a platoon once again.
Of course, it must be mentioned that there’s a chance the Habs carry three goalies as well. If they can’t move Casey DeSmith and Kent Hughes holds true to his declaration that he wasn’t acquired to play in Laval, DeSmith will cut into both netminders’ playing time if they can’t flip him by the start of the season. And if he isn’t there, it’s possible that Cayden Primeau is if they don’t want to run the risk of waiving him. Again, if that happens, Primeau will need to see some game action as well. Montembeault may wind up with the biggest share of the workload but it may not result in as many games as you might think.
Last season was a tale of two years for Montembeault. In the first half, he was quite impressive most nights. In the second, he was a substandard NHL goaltender. Yes, the roster the Habs were icing at that point of the season wasn’t particularly good but it still has to be noted.
For most of his career, Montembeault has been objectively mediocre. His SV% in the QMJHL was .899. In the AHL, it’s .900. Meanwhile, at the NHL level, it’s .896 with his .901 mark last season being his best. Add that track record to the fact that Montreal’s back end shouldn’t be appreciably better in 2023-24 (there’s room for some internal improvement but this is still a weaker blueline group) and there shouldn’t be a ton of optimism for him to take a big step forward. I know there are some people who think it could happen but I’m not one of them.
Having said that, it’s possible that there is another incremental improvement in Montembeault’s numbers. But even with that, he’s not the type of goalie that should be rostered in standard pools with a single goalie slot. In deeper ones, sure, he’s probably the best of Montreal’s options but that’s not saying much. In those leagues, he’s a late-rounder in most formats. Otherwise, Montembeault is a matchup-dependent plug-and-play option that should see around 40-55% of the starts.
OT/SO Losses: 5