Disappointed Rocket goalie Lindgren vows to keep fighting for NHL job

Disappointed Rocket goalie Lindgren vows to keep fighting for NHL job
When the Canadiens grew tired of backup goaltender Antti Niemi last season, they signed free-agent Keith Kinkaid in the summer. And when Kinkaid was placed on waivers Monday morning by Montreal, the organization announced later that afternoon it was promoting 20-year-old rookie Cayden Primeau — and not Lindgren — to back up Carey Price.

Following Tuesday’s Laval Rocket practice at Place Bell, Lindgren couldn’t hide his disappointment.

“I was thinking maybe I was going to get the call. I figured it would be a good opportunity,” he said. “I’ll just wait for my chance and keep on working hard, like I always have. Hopefully it swings the other way.”

Montreal Canadiens goalie Charlie Lindgren stops Toronto Maple Leafs forward Egor Korshkov during the second period at the Bell Centre on Sept. 23, 2019. Eric Bolte / USA TODAY Sports

Lindgren, who signed with the Canadiens in March 2016 as a free agent after playing for St. Cloud State University — foregoing his senior year in the process — also admitted he was upset.

“As a competitor, that’s completely normal. You always want to get a shot to play in the NHL,” said the 6-foot-1, 182-pound native of Lakeville, Minn. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the AHL. I’ve played very well in the NHL, the 18 games I played. I was just hoping for (another) shot. I’ll have to wait my time.”

Lindgren said his lot in life isn’t terrible. In February 2018, he signed a one-way, three-year contract extension worth US$2.25 million. He’s getting well paid to ride the buses in the American Hockey League.

But as he seemingly gets supplanted by one goalie after another, Lindgren must wonder what the organization’s plans are for him.

“I feel like I’ve been ready since November 2017, to be quite honest,” he said. “I’m not going to stop. I’m only 25.

“Nothing’s come easy my whole life. I’ll keep pushing. That’s exactly what I’ll do.”

Lindgren, one of the rare goalies to catch with his right hand, played 14 games with the Canadiens during the 2017-18 season, including an eight-game stretch when Price was battling chronic fatigue syndrome.

While Lindgren went 3-4-1 during that stint, he did produce his first NHL shutout, along with a 2.43 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. However, overall that season, he won only four of his 14 appearances. His GAA ballooned to 3.03, while his save percentage dropped slightly to .908.

Lindgren played only one game for the Canadiens last year, the regular-season finale against Toronto, with Montreal already eliminated from the playoffs. He stopped 44 of 49 shots in a wild 6-5 shootout victory.

Overall in his NHL career, Lindgren is 8-8-2 with a 2.89 GAA and .912 save percentage.

While he appears to be at a dead-end with the Canadiens, Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard said fans shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

“There’s a Charlie Lindgren situation everywhere in pro hockey … guys fighting for their jobs, trying to prove they can be better. To try and have an opportunity,” Bouchard said. “I’ll never count a player out of maximizing his opportunity, if he’s passionate for the game.

“A guy who’s fighting every day, that’s passionate, loves hockey and wants to get better, never write them off.”

Bouchard wears many hats in his minor-league role. He’s a coach as well as a part-time psychologist as he deals with players’ bruised egos. On Monday, after Bouchard told Primeau and forward Matthew Peca of their promotions, he called Lindgren. They spoke for approximately 15 minutes. Bouchard said it was his duty to call.

“We had a good conversation. I let him talk,” Bouchard said, without providing details. “I was that player. I was that guy that maybe wasn’t the call-up. I know how they feel. It’s not fun.

“The reality is (Canadiens coach Claude Julien and general manager Marc Bergevin) have decisions to make. They have their own situations.”

As Tuesday’s Rocket practice was ending, it was announced Kinkaid had cleared waivers and is expected to join Laval for Wednesday’s home game against Cleveland — one that Lindgren will start. Bouchard rotates his goalies and will stick to that plan. Primeau played the Rocket’s last game, on Saturday.

Bouchard said he doesn’t anticipate any problems with Kinkaid, but noted he must have a good attitude and work hard. What might be more telling is monitoring Lindgren’s first game after his latest setback.

“I don’t need to think about that,” Bouchard snapped. “I need to make sure Charlie’s in a good place. He’s the one holding the stick and wearing the pads. I know he’s going to give everything he can.”
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