When news broke that Carey Price would miss some time with a “lower-body injury” (which the team says is not related to a 2015-16 knee injury) it put a huge damper on Montreal’s season. So much of the team’s success, it appears, hinges on him being healthy and on top of his game. When Price struggled out of the gate this season, the Canadiens sunk to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
But all may not be lost. In Price’s absence, undrafted 23-year-old netminder Charlie Lindgren has stepped into the spotlight and become the darling of Habs fans.
Lindgren’s three appearances this season have each been fantastic and as unexpected of a development as this is, what makes it more surprising is that he’s doing it after getting off to a subpar start in the AHL. But Lindgren has now played six NHL games in his career and has a .953 save percentage, so maybe there’s something special here that’s being uncovered.
Here’s a closer look at Lindgren and his background.
WEIGHT: 182 pounds
FROM: Lakeville, Minnesota
ACQUIRED: Signed out of St. Cloud State (NCAA)
A STELLAR NCAA CAREER
Lindgren played two seasons as St. Cloud State’s clear No. 1, starting 78 of 88 games in 2014-15 and 2015-16. In the latter, his final college season, he won 30 of 40 games which were the most wins in the NCHC conference and second-most across the entire NCAA.
He was named the goaltender of the year in his conference that season, and was one of five finalists for the Mike Richter Award, which is given to the best Division I goalie in the NCAA — he lost out to Boston College’s Thatcher Demko, a second-round pick (36th overall) of Vancouver who hasn’t played an NHL game yet.
“Lindgren was, in our mind, the best free-agent goaltender available coming out of the U.S. college level,” Bergevin said after the Canadiens signed Lindgren out of school. “Lindgren is a top goaltender coming out of college and becomes an excellent prospect for our organization, bringing some depth at this position.”
That year’s college free agent goalie class also included Nick Ellis (Edmonton), who hasn’t yet played in the NHL. Ellis was 13th in the AHL with a .918 save percentage last season and is currently seventh in the circuit with a .927 SP. Among the unsigned skaters who came out of the NCAA that season were Troy Stecher (Vancouver), Drake Caggiula (Edmonton) and Brandon Tanev (Winnipeg).
HE WAS THE LAST STARTER FOR THE ST. JOHN’S ICECAPS
Last season was the final one for the IceCaps as the Habs moved their AHL affiliate to Laval and renamed it the Rocket. Lindgren got the bulk of the starts in 2016-17, playing in 48 games, posting a .914 SP, 2.56 GAA and 24-18-1 record.
In fact, the mask he’s been wearing in his three NHL starts this season is the same one he wore last season, so it shows the markings of a defunct IceCaps team. He had a new mask on the way, but it was mistakenly sent to Ontario. That will change the next time he hits the ice for the Habs.
The funny thing about all his NHL success is that he was off to a terrible start in the AHL. Lindgren played in nine games, had allowed more than three goals in four of them and had a dreadful .885 save percentage. He only faced an average of 25 shots per game with the Laval Rocket.
THE BEST HABS GOALIE RUN TO START A CAREER SINCE WAYNE THOMAS
In 1972-93, Wayne Thomas went on a winning streak that no Habs goalie has matched to start a career since. Two years before Thomas, Ken Dryden went 6-0 to start his career.
So Lindgren, who won his first five career NHL starts, is the next Ken Dryden?
Well … maybe.
You see, while Lindgren won his first two NHL starts of this season, the second win actually marked five wins in a row to start his NHL career. In 2015-16, right after signing his pro contract, Lindgren played one game against Carolina and made 26 saves on 28 shots for a 4-2 win. Last season, he played two more games in April, beating Florida 4-1 and Detroit 3-2 in OT. This season, his first win was also his first career shutout, a 38-save shutdown of the Chicago Blackhawks and the second was a 29-save, 3-2 win over Vegas.
It was the best start to a Canadiens goalie’s career since Dryden in 1970-71. And the mask he wore for his first career win in 2015, painted by his father, had images of Dryden on both sides of the helmet.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Lindgren told the Sporting News. “Obviously Ken Dryden was one of the best that ever played. My dad’s a huge fan. That was his favourite goalie. My dad was a goalie and he really looked up to Ken Dryden. And I know that’s really special to him, too.”
In six NHL starts, Lindgren is 5-1-0 with a .953 SP, 1.50 GAA, and he’s yet to allow more than two goals in a game. With Al Montoya injured now as well as Price, it looks like Lindgren will see plenty of more work, too.
HIS FIRST LOSS CAME AGAINST HIS FAVOURITE TEAM … AND ONE THAT COULD HAVE HAD HIM
While Lindgren’s father grew up a Habs fan, Charlie was a fan of the local Minnesota Wild. He recalls Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez as the goalies of his time and was a season ticket holder of the team since expansion.
And the Wild, technically, had a chance to get Lindgren for themselves a couple years ago. Lindgren attended Minnesota’s rookie development camp in 2015 after two years at St. Cloud State, but returned to school for his final season before signing on with the Habs.
Lindgren started against Minnesota Friday night at the Bell Centre as his parents watched him from the crowd in an NHL game for the first time. The Wild won the game 3-0 on the back of a Jason Zucker hat trick, although Lindgren had another strong game, stopping 32 of 34 shots (one goal was an empty-netter).
“I just looked at it as another game,” Lindgren said. “But it’s definitely not the team I wanted to lose to.”