Pat Hickey: Canadiens' goaltending situation is a murky mess

Carrying three netminders can be a nightmare and ideally Cayden Primeau would be playing major minutes in Laval, where he’s needed.

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It’s easy to coach a team that has one goaltender who is head and shoulders better than his backup.

A two-goaltender system can be a tad more challenging, but it allows coaches to ride the hot hand or spread out the work so that neither netminder gets too tired or too rusty.

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A three-goaltender situation can be a nightmare, which is why it is seldom seen. The Canadiens are one of only two NHL teams carrying three goaltenders — Detroit is the other team — and they are in that position because general manager Kent Hughes is afraid that he might lose one of the trio if he has to expose them to waivers before sending them to Laval. He’s not opposed to parting with one of them, but he wants to get something in return.

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There have been rumblings of an impending deal with the goalie-strapped Edmonton Oilers, but either the Oilers aren’t desperate to add a goalie who may not be better than what they already have or Hughes hasn’t seen a return he likes.

Veteran Jake Allen and Sam Montembeault have shared most of the workload, while Cayden Primeau has played only five games with a 2-3 record and an .886 save percentage after Thursday’s loss to Florida.

For the second consecutive season, Montembeault, who stopped 26 shots in a 4-2 win in Columbus Wednesday, has posted the best numbers with a 5-3-1 record, a 2.73 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.

The veteran Allen has a 3-5-1 record with a 3.59 GAA and a .903 save percentage, but he has drawn the toughest assignments. Five of his six losses have been against teams holding playoff spots. Montembeault has faced only three playoff teams and has a 1-2 record in those games.

Montembeault may be the only current goalie who will figure in the team’s plans when they morph into a contender, but he’s the only member of the trio who doesn’t have a contract beyond this season. The 27-year-old is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. The Canadiens are working on a contract extension, but Montembeault, who is making US$1 million this season, may be tempted to test the open market.

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The 33-year-old Allen, who was originally acquired as the perfect backup for Carey Price, has one year remaining on a $3.85 million deal and he’s unlikely to get an extension at that level.

The 24-year-old Primeau is in his fifth season with the Montreal organization and hasn’t shown he can play at the NHL level. He belongs in Laval, where the Rocket has been struggling with journeyman Strauss Mann and rookie Jakub Dobes in goal, and coach Jean-François Houle’s squad could use some help.

Down the line, the most likely scenario for obtaining a top-flight goaltender is through a trade. Montreal will be in a good position because they have a stockpile of young defencemen, who are always in demand. The organizational depth along the blue line is reflected in the fact that the Canadiens are hovering around .500 even though three of the six defenceman who started the season — David Savard, Jordan Harris and Arber Xhekaj — are on the injured reserve list.

The other possibility is to find a goaltender in the draft. The strategy paid off for the Canadiens in 2005 when they selected Price with the fifth overall pick and they struck gold in 2003 when they found Jaroslav Halak in the ninth round. And José Theodore was a second-round choice in 1994.

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The Canadiens have drafted 11 goaltenders since Price and seventh-rounder Primeau is the standout in the group.

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The Canadiens made news at this year’s draft when they selected three goaltenders.

The best-known member of the group is Boston College freshman Jacob Fowler who was a third-round pick. He’s off to a strong start with an 11-2-1 record and is a candidate for the Mike Richter Award, which goes to the top U.S. college goaltender.

Winning the award is no guarantee of success. Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets, the inaugural winner in 2014, has a Vézina Trophy, but other winners include Primeau and Dollard’s Devon Levi, who won it twice at Northeastern.

Levi started his rookie season as Buffalo’s No. 1 goalie, but was recently demoted to the AHL

Fourth-round pick Quentin Miler has struggled this season playing for the Quebec Remparts, who are near the bottom of the QMJHL after winning the Memorial Cup last spring.

The wild card in the group is fifth-rounder Yevgeni Volokhin, an 18-year-old who plays for Khanty Mansiysk in the MHL, the Russian junior league. He’s the league’s top goalie with a 9-2-2 record, a 1.83 GAA and a .939 save percentage.

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