Sitting third to last in the Eastern Conference and fifth to last in the entire league, there have not been many bright spots for the Montreal Canadiens this season. The Habs are third last in goals for and their leading scorer has just 41 points. Add in injuries to key players such as Carey Price, Shea Weber and Max Pacioretty, its been a season that Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens would love to be able to forget. One bright spot, however, has been the play of waiver pick up Antti Niemi.
Antti Niemi Is Earning His Keep
The Traveling Soldier
On July 1st, the Pittsburgh Penguins signed Niemi to a one year contract worth $700K, but his stay was rather short. Niemi was placed on waivers on October 23rd, after posting a disastrous 7.11 goals against average in just three games. The Florida Panthers claimed Niemi but he was quickly placed on waivers just three weeks later. He was pulled in his only two starts, allowing five goals in a total of 58 minutes. Many had thought Niemi had played his last game in the NHL.
However, on November 14th, Niemi was once again claimed off waivers. This time by the Habs, his third NHL team in just over a month. Many questioned this decision by Marc Bergevin. How could Niemi possibly help the Canadiens? With injuries to both Price and Al Montoya, Bergevin wanted to give some veteran support to rookie netminder Charlie Lindgren, who was handling the brunt of the work.
Earning his keep
Niemi got his first start with the Canadiens on November 22nd against P.K. Subban and the Nashville Predators. Niemi was phenomenal in that game, making 31 saves in a 2-1 OT loss. He looked cool, calm and collected, cutting down his angles and not overplaying his crease. He looked like the Niemi of old and has not looked back.
Since joining the Canadiens, Niemi has posted a 4-3-4 record with a 2.34 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. Those are impressive numbers regardless of the situation. What makes them more impressive, is being able to produce these numbers on one of the NHL’s worst teams. It shows Niemi’s resilience and really proves his worth to be able to bounce back like this after such a terrible start.
Tough Decision Ahead For Bergevin
So what do the Habs do with Antti Niemi? Carey Price is the clear number one for the Habs. That will never be in doubt as long as he’s a member of the Montreal Canadiens. But who is the Canadiens back up? Last month, the Canadiens signed Charlie Lindgren to a one way, three-year contract extension with a cap hit of $750K per season. Lindgren seemed to have the job all but locked up. But with the play of Niemi, he’s really pushing for a contract extension himself and making things tough on Marc Bergevin.
The Habs have 13 games remaining this season and we will most likely see Niemi and Lindgren split those games. This is the final showcase for the two netminders before Bergevin will need to make a decision as Niemi will become a UFA at seasons end. No matter which way the Habs go about it one thing is for sure. Niemi proved he can overcome adversity and still be the quality goalie he once proved to be.
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