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Big Cubano, bigger responsibilities

Al Montoya could see an increased workload during his second season in Montreal

by Steven Nechay @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

The Big Cubano could have some even bigger responsibilities heading into his second season with the Habs.

And the proof, as they say, was in the playoffs.

After all, of the NHL's final four this past spring, only one club featured a netminder who made over 60 starts during the regular season -- Nashville's Pekka Rinne, with 61.

On the flipside of that equation, meanwhile, only two clubs among the first eight to be eliminated featured netminders who started less than 60 games -- Chicago and Calgary, at 55 and 45, respectively.

Coincidence? Not according to Canadiens goaltending coach Stephane Waite.

"I don't believe your starter can play 65 to 70 games a year anymore. It's too tough -- physically and mentally -- and that'll catch up with you in the spring, for sure. That's why a good backup can start 20, 22… even 24 games a year, and give your No. 1 goalie a break while still helping you make the playoffs," explained the Sherbrooke, QC native, who saw Carey Price make 62 starts in 2016-17 -- eighth most in the NHL. "But if your backup can't stay above .500, then you're in trouble. That's why the backup has a huge job to handle."

Video: Al Montoya describes his mask design

Montoya of course hit that make-or-break target during his debut campaign with the Habs, earning himself a two-year contract extension in January along the way.

Overall, the 32-year-old puckstopper picked up 20 of a possible 36 points (.555) across 18 games in 2016-17, going 8-6-4 in the blue paint.

"He gives us a chance to win every time he plays, and that's huge when your backup has to start an average of 20 games in today's NHL. We needed him to play at least .500 hockey if we were going to make the playoffs, and that's exactly what he did. He's a very big part of our team."

Indeed, a big part of the Habs, and a big problem for his former suitors, as the Chicago native notably went 3-0-0 against the Islanders, Jets, and Panthers with Montreal.

But while all signs point to Montoya enjoying some extra ice time in 2017-18, it's worth noting that 'revenge' doesn't exactly rank highly when it comes to a coaching staff's strategy between the pipes.

You're off the hook for now, Arizona.

"We're not afraid to put Al in goal against any team in the league," stressed Waite over the phone from his offseason home in the Eastern Townships. "[Him beating teams he used to play for] was just coincidence. We don't look at who he'll be playing, we just look at the schedule that we make at the beginning of the season. Our priority is to give Carey the right days off at the right times."

Likewise, putting forth the best team possible in front of Price night after night will always be a priority for the Habs. Case in point, Marc Bergevin has been busy making upgrades in that department over the summer with the additions of Jonathan Drouin, Karl Alzner, and David Schlemko, to name a few.

But just as vital as those men up front, is the unsung hero right behind the 2017 Vezina Trophy nominee.

"The backup job is one of the toughest jobs in the NHL, because you can go 20 days without playing, then have to start a must-win game," explained Waite. "It's a tough job, and I have a lot of respect for anyone who can pull it off."

Plus, when it comes to his All-Star teammate, Montoya has more to offer than just a well deserved night's rest.

"What I like is that he's a great teammate, which is key for a backup. He's always supportive of Carey, and I know his teammates like him a lot too, which is also important," continued the veteran goalie coach, who won two Stanley Cups with Chicago, in 2010 and 2013.

So, is there any question whether the University of Michigan product will be up to the task for whatever comes his way during his sophomore Habs season?

"The thing with Al is that he works very hard every day. As a backup, he has to be on the ice every day -- there are no days off for him," underlined Waite. "He's often doing extra things after practice, which is a big quality in a backup. He has a very good work ethic. He knows his role very well, and he's going to be ready for a big season.

Video: Al Montoya demonstrates his summer workout routine

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