Maxime Lagace hasn’t had many positive results this season.
Or bad ones for that matter.
Mainly, he just hasn’t played a great deal this season.
And that’s by design.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins signed Legace to a one-year, two-way contract in October to be their third goaltender on the organizational depth chart, it was under the premise Lagace would not appear in many games barring anything unforeseen.
With the NHL staging the 2020-21 season under the extraordinary circumstances of a global pandemic, rosters were expanded to include a taxi squad. Part of that group’s composition includes at least one goaltender who does little more than practice.
Typically, the organization’s third goaltender is the top goaltender with that franchise’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate.
But in 2020-21, Lagace has only appeared in nine AHL games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, having been intermediately assigned to the Poconos simply to get some game action.
His 10th game of the season might have been his best.
Especially because it was his first NHL contest in more than two years.
Making 29 saves, he guided the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 1-0 shutout of the Buffalo Sabres at PPG Paints Arena in their regular season finale.
For Lagace, who last played in the NHL as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights in February of 2019, he recorded his first career shutout and became the first goaltender in Penguins history to get a shutout in his debut for the franchise.
He was pressed into duty because starter Tristan Jarry and backup Casey DeSmith are each sidelined with undisclosed injuries.
“I’m very proud to be able to be part of the Penguins,” Lagace said via video conference. “And obviously tonight is going to be a night that I’ll remember for sure. (The moment) that I’ll remember the most is when the buzzer sounded at the end there. I don’t even know how to describe it. It was such a relief. Within the last four minutes, I’d say I started thinking about the shutout. It was creeping into my head a little bit. I wanted it so bad. The boys didn’t give up a shot. I’m thankful. I’m very, very happy to be here.”
Despite facing an underwhelming Sabres team stocked with AHL-caliber players, Lagace had to earn this milestone, especially considering the Penguins were outshot 24-9 in the first two periods.
Perhaps his toughest stop came at 10 minutes, 41 seconds of the third period when he robbed Sabres forward Victor Olofsson on a one-timer from the slot, fighting the puck off with his left arm.
“I obviously read the pass, but the reaction on the shot was instinct honestly,” the 28-year-old said. “When he shot it, I literally just put my glove up and it hit. Sometimes you’ve got to be lucky, and I’ll take it obviously.”
If things go well for the Penguins, Lagace doesn’t play another game for the next two months. Despite such little action in any games of consequence, he feels he’s taken strides in his game this season.
“(This season is) lot different than we’re used to,” Lagace said. “At the same time, I think my game keeps growing. I work a lot with (Penguins goaltending development coach Andy Chiodo) and (Penguins goaltending coach Mike Buckley). It helps a lot. Obviously, you want to get into games. That’s where you get your feels. That’s where you feel good about yourself. It’s not been easy, I would say. But at the same time, I’ve learned a lot about myself as a goalie. I like where my game is at.”
The Penguins certainly liked where it was on Saturday.
“Obviously, coming into my first NHL game in two years, I just wanted to keep it simple, clear my head as much as I could and go as the game came to me,” Lagace said. “I tried to have fun. I think I did. And the boys played in front of me a good game. It was a good team effort and I’m obviously happy with the result.”
Notes: Following the game, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan indicated most members of the team, players and staffers, would receive their second vaccination shot for covid-19 on Saturday evening. That would mean the Penguins would exceed the NHL’s threshold of 85% of a traveling party being vaccinated that is required to participate in the league’s loosened protocols with regards to covid-19. … Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for 26 consecutive games.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .