Montoya takes a necessary bullet for Price, Montreal
It may not be detailed in his contract, or even once communicated aloud, but it had to have been understood: An essential component of Al Montoya's job is taking a bullet when necessary for Carey Price.
Montoya, the netminder now usually in a ball cap for the Canadiens, made this essential sacrifice Friday, staying in for the full 60 minutes as the Columbus Blue Jackets forced arena staff to tap into the gunpowder reserve, firing the cannon 10 times versus Montreal.
Big picture, this double-digit thrashing depends on perspective.
On one hand, Montreal’s inflated PDO and bottom-10 possession metrics indicate this was an inevitable correction (favorably on one night) for a team that still relies far too heavily on the NHL’s best goaltender. Conversely, the one-loss Canadiens' 2.09 goals-per-game input still leads the league despite being tagged for 10, supporting the theory that this was merely a wake-up call for a legitimate title contender.
There is no such spin, however, for Montoya. Allowing 43 percent of the club's total input on one night is humiliating. Although it's just one night, it skews a season's worth of statistics, and will likely affect future earnings.
But on Friday, he earned his money.
A backup goalie's primary function is to protect the starter; this is achieved in a variety of ways. They're obviously needed to spell an injured starter, to handle the crease during back-to-backs, and to be used wherever needed to lessen the workload on the No. 1, who's typically targeted an optimal amount of starts to make throughout the year. This sort of shielding isn't limited to physical health, either. Backups also exist so the big-money starter can avoid the sort of shame Montoya's dealing with right now.
Normally, this goes both ways, and the No. 1 will tighten up the straps and head in when the backup's unable to track the puck in a game still within reach - like when Montoya allowed three goals in a little over three minutes in the first period Friday.
But in Montreal, preservation takes on a heightened importance. Price means more to the Canadiens than any other player does to his team in the entire NHL, and with his injury history - and the devastation his 70-game absence wrought on Montreal last season - it would be borderline negligent on the part of Michel Therrien and the coaching staff to send him into a meaningless game, cold.
Therrien said after the game that it was "a really tough decision," and that Price was held back because Montreal will meet Philadelphia on the second half of a back-to-back Saturday night.
That's all valid - but this was the right decision regardless.
Montoya will handle this situation the right way. If his ego's a little bruised this morning, though, it's far quicker to fix, and way less detrimental to the team, than a section of Price's soft tissue that's torn, strained, or stretched due to an altered pregame routine and insufficient warmup when thrust into action for meaningless minutes.