TORONTO — Jake Allen had already made 13 saves when he stretched to get to No. 14 on a shot he knew he had little chance of stopping — a rebound for the NHL’s best goal scorer, Auston Matthews, who potted his 57th of the season, his 50th in his last 50 games, and left Allen face down in his crease, wincing in pain.
I could feel the 31-year-old goaltender’s disappointment from all the way up in the press box at Scotiabank Arena, and I could sense his frustration from close by after the game.
As Allen walked out of the Canadiens dressing room, nearly two hours after allowing that goal to Matthews and leaving what turned out to be a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, we bumped into each other.
“Didn’t look good,” I said.
“Season from hell,” he replied.
It started with the Canadiens jumping out to their worst start to a campaign in their 113-year history, with Allen holding the fort in Carey Price’s long-term absence — and playing behind a team redefining defence, and not in a good way.
He battled as hard as he could until suffering a groin injury in Boston on Jan. 12, and then he put himself through a grueling rehabilitation to return on March 17.
Since then, Allen has made 11 appearances in front of Montreal’s net and faced down 414 shots before the one from Matthews forced him out.
It could very well be the last one of Allen’s season.
If it was, he has still left a considerable mark on this growing Canadiens team.
“Just the way he’s a pro,” said coach Martin St. Louis, “his everyday habits, his preparation, he’s a great example for our young guys.”
They’re a team that hasn’t given up on this miserable season that’s essentially seen them skate wire-to-wire in one of the last positions in the NHL standings.
They didn’t quit on this game, either, despite getting dominated through the first two periods. And a lot of that is due to the few like Allen, who have put in the work day-in and day-out without complaint and fought on every single play to prove their worth.
He’s held himself and the team accountable both in the dressing room and in the media room, and he’s helped these players establish the habits they need to push their careers forward.
Samuel Montembeault, the 25-year-old who entered Saturday’s game having not seen any action since March 27 and immediately surrendered Matthews’ 58th goal of the season, has certainly taken lessons from Allen.
“He’s great,” Montembeault said. “He’s a great teammate. He’s been very supportive of me. I think his mentality, even in practice or during the games, he fights for every shot and he never gives up. So, that’s a great example to bring into my game.”
That’s what Montembeault did after Matthews beat him clean just 27 seconds after Allen left the game. He settled in and gave the Canadiens a chance to stay within striking distance, surrendering only one more goal he couldn’t be faulted on and making two key saves on a third-period 5-on-3 against.
Allen watched from the sidelines, where he was already likely to spend more of his time, regardless, with Price edging closer and closer to his long-anticipated return to play.
Still, he deserves to be there in tandem with Price once that day finally comes, supporting him from the bench — as he had so clearly through Montreal’s run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final — and keeping himself ready to play.
“Anytime you see a teammate go down, it’s really tough,” said forward Josh Anderson. “He’s been through a lot this year — coming back from an injury and the process of him getting healthy — and he’s looked unbelievable since he’s been back. It’s a tough bounce for him, for sure.”
It’s a tough bounce for the Canadiens, too, who have dedicated more than $13 million of their salary cap to what many would consider to be one of the best goaltending duos in the league and never benefited from having both players healthy at the same time.
It’s hard to say what the future holds for either player despite both being under contract through next year, but Allen has at least done everything that’s been asked of him.
“He’s been phenomenal,” said Anderson. “He’s been in this league a long time, played with a lot of great players, goaltenders. He’s great in the dressing room with all the young guys. And obviously, this year’s been tough on everyone, but he’s been a big leader in our room for sure.”