Keith Kinkaid’s arrival should help Canadiens manage Carey Price’s load

New Jersey Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid (1) makes a save against the Los Angeles Kings. (Julio Cortez/CP/AP)

There were a lot of numbers for the Montreal Canadiens to take into account before making their decision to give goaltender Keith Kinkaid a one-year, $1.75-million contract on July 1, but the most important one was 82. That’s the number of games Kinkaid has appeared in over the last two seasons.

It was more relevant to the Canadiens that he played 41 matchups with the New Jersey Devils last season than his 15-18-6 record, disappointing 3.36 goals-against average and underwhelming .891 save percentage. Especially since they could balance those numbers against the ones he posted in 41 games a season prior, when he managed to go 26-10-3, with a 2.77 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage to push a weak Devils team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But a combined 82 games told the Canadiens just about everything they needed to know, which is Kinkaid could help them do what they weren’t able to do last season when backup Antti Niemi faltered down the stretch and forced starter Carey Price into six more games than he was originally penciled in for. This is mostly about managing the soon-to-be 32-year-old Price’s workload, which is something Kinkaid says he’s prepared for.

The 30-year-old New Yorker, who arrived in Montreal on Sunday, met with media on Monday sporting his new Canadiens threads.

“I’m just happy to be here,” he said, wearing No. 37. “Happy to have another opportunity to play in the best league in the world. To work with a guy like Carey Price is going to be tremendous. If I can take his workload and lighten it up for him a little bit — I want to be a guy they can count on when they need somebody to win a game and give Carey a night off.”

That’s what they want, too.

The Canadiens are aware of the trend going around the NHL where starting goaltenders play fewer games than they have in any season over the last two decades. They’re also aware Price was forced to make 66 appearances last season — 12 fewer than Stanley Cup finalists Tuukka Rask and Jordan Binnington combined to play.

They know that if they’re going to keep Price playing at an elite level, if they’re going to preserve his best self over the seven seasons he remains under contract for, they’re going to have to lean a bit more on someone else.

It wasn’t going to be Charlie Lindgren, the 25-year-old who has accumulated just 18 games of NHL experience since signing with the Canadiens in 2016. It wasn’t going to be 22-year-old AHLer Michael McNiven, either. And Cayden Primeau, the 19-year-old college superstar who has yet to appear in a game as a professional, was out of the question.

But Kinkaid made a lot of sense for the Canadiens, not only because he could lighten Price’s load, but also because he’s a seasoned professional with 151 games of NHL experience under his belt. The value of his tenure, in the event that Price suffers an injury or misses some games due to illness, is considerable.

Price has missed games in every season since coming into the league including 133 due to injury or illness since 2008. This Canadiens team, which has missed the playoffs twice in a row and three times in the last four seasons, needed a proper insurance policy and found one in Kinkaid.

In an ideal world, the Canadiens won’t have to use him in that capacity, but they will have to use him much more than they used Niemi, who made just 17 appearances last year after making 19 in his first year with the team.

Knowing they could depend on Kinkaid for at least 30 games this coming season gave the Canadiens the peace of mind to offer him a contract. They may only want to use him for 22 to 25 games, but they don’t have to ask themselves whether or not he’s capable of playing more.

And Kinkaid believes he’s ready to handle the load. The fact he’s up for the challenge of playing in this hockey-mad city counts for something, too.

“The past few years, I’ve gotten the highs and lows of the NHL and the rigours of it. It’ll just help me going forward, especially in a place like Montreal where there’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “You have to perform.”

With a lifetime record of 64-55-17 on a sub-standard Devils team that’s only made the playoffs once in the last five seasons, there’s ample reason to believe Kinkaid can.

“I want to be that person that can help in any way,” he said. “I want to get the wins for the team when I’m in net. If they give me more games or less games, I’ll be there.”

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