What the Puck: Allen's exit puts spotlight on Montembeault and Primeau

With the team’s three-goalie rotation ended, the Canadiens and fans will hopefully get to see whether Monty and Primeau have what it takes.

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The Canadiens’ nutty three-goalie rotation is finally on the trash heap of history.

With Jake Allen, the most seasoned of the three, traded by general manager Kent Hughes to the New Jersey Devils just before the trade deadline, the team is down to two goaltenders on its roster. This is great news any way you slice it.

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Stuck with three goalies, neither Samuel Montembeault nor Cayden Primeau was getting enough starts to really show what either of them are made of. And I maintain it was a mistake on Hughes’s part to keep the three-headed goalie system until nearly the end of the season. Especially when all the GM got for his trouble was a conditional third-round pick from the Devils in exchange for Allen. The conditions are that the pick becomes a second-rounder if Allen plays 40 games next season for the Devils and the team makes the playoffs. Odds are, he won’t play 40 games. And the odds that a third-rounder will become an impact player for the Canadiens are … very low.

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Now many of course will counter with the argument that Hughes kept Allen because there were no takers before last Friday, but given the negative impact of the rotation on Monty and Primeau, I think Hughes should have put Allen on waivers and let the cards fall where they were going to. This is no knock on Allen, a guy who was the ultimate good teammate during his years as a Hab. But the hockey biz isn’t about sentimentality. Making decisions with your heart leads to doing things like signing Brendan Gallagher to a terrible contract that handcuffs your team.

Now the team and its fans are finally going to get some clarity with the goaltending situation. In my mind, it’s no coincidence that in only the second game after Allen’s departure, Primeau came out and delivered what was almost certainly his best game as a Montreal Canadien.

The 24-year-old netminder quite literally stood on his head Tuesday evening at the Bell Centre, stopping all 41 shots from the Blue Jackets in a 3-0 victory. Incredibly enough, it was his second straight shutout on Bell Centre ice, after recently blanking the Anaheim Ducks. But this was a much more impressive showing given that the not-so-mighty Ducks only threw 13 pucks at him that night. Tuesday night’s 41-save performance was just one shot shy of the Canadiens’ all-time shutout record of 42 saves, a record held by some pretty good goaltenders in Jacques Plante, José Théodore and Carey Price.

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I loved the chutzpah of Primeau when interviewed by RDS analyst Marc Denis on the ice after the game and his selection as first star. Asked his thoughts on the performance, Primeau, who looks much younger than his age, showed some grit when he said: “It’s just the beginning.” Boom!

Of course, it’s only one game. Primeau’s play has been uneven this season. His stats aren’t great and before Tuesday, most fans probably best remember his terrible game against the Florida Panthers, when he let in five goals, all on the glove side. He sometimes has looked deflated after letting a goal in and as Patrick Roy underlined in bright red felt pen, great goalies have to show off full confidence with gusts up to full-on swagger.

But with only 15 games under his belt this season, it’s difficult to judge Primeau. When there are sometimes weeks between games, how is the guy supposed to remain sharp? Same goes for Monty. He was given a three-year contract extension late last year that effectively made him the team’s No. 1 goalie, but he hasn’t been playing the amount of games expected of a No. 1 guy.

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Now everyone will be able to see if he really has what it takes. In my humble opinion, Kent Hughes’s team has to take a major step forward next season. The first line is finally firing on all cylinders and all three members of the top trio have taken big steps forward — though Caufield needs to locate his scoring mojo.

There are a slew of young defencemen who should presumably be better next season and Mike Matheson is looking positively elite. But you don’t go anywhere without goaltending and if you don’t believe that, just have a chat with fans of the New Jersey Devils.

Is Monty good enough to be around when the rebuild finally moves into the must-win stage? Or is he only good enough for the reconstruction? After seeing Tuesday’s performance, do you think it’s possible Primeau could give Montembeault a little competition for the top job next season? Or is he a one-hit-wonder?

At least now the two goalies will be playing enough games that we can reasonably expect to answer these questions.

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