Is Samuel Montembeault the Montreal Canadiens goalie of the future?

Montreal Canadiens, Sam Montembeault (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Montreal Canadiens, Sam Montembeault (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens always knew they would need to prepare for life after Carey Price. That was never a matter of if, just when, and it would appear as though that time has arrived. Although Carey Price could still return, it seems increasingly unlikely, which means the Canadiens are already effectively moving on. And, well, many different options have been thrown out there as Price’s next successor, an unlikely candidate, has taken centre stage.

On October 2nd, 2021, Samuel Montembeault was claimed off of waivers by the Habs to fill in as the new backup with Carey Price out of the lineup. At that point, Montembeault was already 24 years old and had struggled to make a name for himself in the NHL. And that seemed to remain true near the end of last season.

Well, he did show flashes, it wouldn’t at all be crazy to suggest that Montembeault didn’t look like he could cut it at this level. Flash forward to today, and Montembeault looks like a different goalie, having by far the best year of his career. Now, the question isn’t, is he an NHL goalie, but rather, is he the goalie of the future?

As mentioned, last season, he showed flashes, making a fair share of ten bell saves, but he was far from perfect, ending the season with a save percentage of .891 and a goals-against average of 3.77. Those numbers are bad, no matter how you slice it, and it’s what makes his emergence this season all the more shocking.

Samuel Montembeault has the potential to be great for the Montreal Canadiens

Perhaps the surgery he had in May after the Habs season ended, sheds some light on his numbers. It was speculated at times that Montembault played hurt for parts of last season, and the off-season surgery all but confirmed that. But even then, this emergence was utterly unexpected. So this begs the question, can Montembeault be the guy going forward?

The short answer is that we just don’t know, in large part because goaltending is such an unpredictable thing in today’s NHL. There are plenty of examples of goalies being wildly inconsistent. Sergei Bobrovsky going from perennial Vezina candidate to a shell of his former self the moment he arrived in Florida comes to mind.

This isn’t to say that Samuel Montembeault will suffer the same fate, just that it can be difficult to predict how a goalie will perform from one year to the next. However, this season, he’s been nothing short of phenomenal and one of the few bright spots the Habs have had from players over the age of 23. If he can remain this good, there’s no question he will have an opportunity to stay in Montreal for a long time.

Montembeault has had a lot asked of him, especially recently with Jake Allen unavailable. Every time, Montembeault has answered the call and stepped up in a big way for his team. Even in a year where expectations may not be as high, being the goalie for the Montreal Canadiens is a demanding job, one that not everyone is cut out for.

It’s what made Carey Price so special. He had one of the most challenging jobs in the sport, and every night he brought his A game and gave his team a chance to win. Montembeault, albeit in a much smaller sample size, has shown he can handle it and play at a high level too.

Montembeualt’s stats don’t look all that impressive, but context is needed to truly understand how good he’s been. This season, Montembeault has a 3.19 GAA and a .909 sv%, neither of which would be considered all that impressive in today’s NHL.

Still, anyone who has watched the Canadiens play this year knows this isn’t a fair measure of Montemebault’s performance. And that’s where advanced stats like GSAx come in. We’ve discussed GSAx before on A Winning Habit, but if you need a refresher or don’t understand it, here is a great explanation. In layman’s terms, the Habs give up a ton of scoring chances, and this makes it difficult to have impressive numbers.

But on the level playing field provided to us by GSAx, Montembeault is much better. This season, Montembeault has 12.7 GSAx, which is good enough for 11th in the league. This means that if you replaced Montembeault with an “average” goalie, he’d have given up 12.7 more goals.

For reference, Jake Allen sits at 25th in the league with 0.9 GSAx. But we can take this one step further because GSAx is a cumulative stat, which means that someone who has played more games has the opportunity to grow that number. But it is a double-edged sword, and a goalie’s GSAx can also go down. Of goalies that have played in at least 20 games, Montembault ranks 4th in the NHL in GSAx/60, which is phenomenal.

Next. Grading Kent Hughes a year later on the Montreal Canadiens. dark

We won’t know if Samuel Montembeault can be “the guy” for the Canadiens until next season, where we will see if he can sustain this level of play, but he’s off to a great start. Not only was the answer to this question last year no, but the question wasn’t even being asked. Whether or not he can be the goalie of the future remains to be seen, but he’s undoubtedly the goalie of the present and a very good one at that.