Ben Scrivens has waited a long time for this opportunity.
The Montreal Canadiens, who acquired the 29-year-old goaltender and 76 per cent of his expiring prorated $2.3 million cap hit in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, are giving Scrivens his first NHL start since April when he starts between the pipes Tuesday in Miami against the Florida Panthers.
Scrivens’ April is worth revisiting, if only to put what comes next into perspective. From April 1 to 11 he suffered four consecutive losses while allowing 20 goals.
The two years Scrivens spent in Edmonton prior to this one— playing in front of one of the league’s most porous defence lines—are also worth forgetting.
At the start of the 2015-16 season, new Oilers president and general manager Peter Chiarelli buried Scrivens and his contract with Edmonton’s AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors.
“I thought I had a good [training camp],” said Scrivens Monday after arriving with the Canadiens in Tampa Bay. “I went in there, I was probably in the best shape I’ve been in, but that’s the nature of hockey. It’s a business.”
It took Scrivens three weeks to obtain an American visa, delaying his start with Bakersfield. In the interim, the Condors focused on developing 22-year-old goalie Laurent Brossoit. When Scrivens did play for Bakersfield, his numbers weren't pretty: an unflattering 2-6-1 record, a .893 save percentage and a 3.47 goals-against average.
“I was sitting around spinning the tires,” explained Scrivens. “It was tough to get any momentum going, and then you get some bad habits that start creeping into your game.”
Scrivens undid some of those habits in his final days with the Condors. A 44-save win against the Stockton Heat on Dec. 16 helped his confidence. In his final two games with Bakersfield he posted save percentages of .921 and .923.
The Canadiens took notice.
Since losing starter Carey Price to a lower body injury, the Canadiens have been relying on rookie goaltender Mike Condon and third-stringer Dustin Tokarski. The two of them had played a combined 57 NHL games before Scrivens--with 129 NHL appearances on his own--touched down in Tampa on Monday.
“He had some tough times, he also had periods where he performed well,” said Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin in French on Monday, adding he feels Scrivens may have more to give than he's shown.
“I believe that Stephane Waite is one of the best—if not the best—goaltending instructors. There are many good ones,” Bergevin explained. “But if he’s able to help Ben get some wins for the team from now until Carey returns, we’ll be happy.”
Scrivens should have at least three weeks to prove he can do a better job than Condon, who began the season with nine wins in his first 14 starts before dropping seven of his past eight. Scrivens won’t have to contend with Tokarski, who was reassigned Monday to Montreal’s AHL affiliate St. John’s IceCaps.
In the big picture, the Canadiens will give Scrivens an opportunity to prove he still belongs in the NHL.
But first, Tuesday’s game is the chance the pending unrestricted free agent has been waiting for.