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Goaltender Charlie Lindgren’s winding NHL road leads him to Washington

Charlie Lindgren will be the backup goaltender this season to Darcy Kuemper for the Capitals. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Washington Capitals goaltender Charlie Lindgren arrived in the District without much fanfare. He signed with Washington on the first day of free agency in July — the same day the Capitals inked a deal with Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche goalie Darcy Kuemper to be their No. 1 netminder.

All the attention was on Kuemper that day, and the next day, and the next. Kuemper is the Capitals’ shiny new acquisition, expected to be the stalwart in net who will help the team live up to expectations. But Kuemper isn’t the only one slated to be between the pipes for Washington this season. Lindgren should see a healthy amount of action as Kuemper’s designated backup.

Kuemper started 57 games last season in Colorado and is expected to carry a similar workload this year. That will leave 20 to 30 games for Lindgren, barring injuries or a significant change in Kuemper’s recent play.

“I’ve worked extremely hard to get to this point,” Lindgren said. “Like I’ve always told everyone, there’s no room for complacency, you’ve got to keep on working and keep on working hard. I’m still trying to climb the ladder and be a better goalie every single day.”

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Washington signed Lindgren, 28, to a three-year, $3.3 million deal after he played in five games last season for the St. Louis Blues and went 5-0-0 with a 1.22 goals against average and a .958 save percentage. He spent the majority of the season with the American Hockey League’s Springfield Thunderbirds, who advanced to the Calder Cup finals, an experience Lindgren said would help him in the long run.

“Lindgren, he still has to prove what he is, but I think he’ll get it done,” Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said. “He’s got a smaller sample size. Really good in the American League. Really good in the sample size last year in the NHL. I think it’s a good opportunity for him, and we believe he can do it.”

Before his time with St. Louis, he spent five seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, a stretch that Lindgren says became “frustrating” toward the end. Lindgren started 24 games for the Canadiens, posting a 10-12-2 record with a 3.00 goals against average and a .907 save percentage.

“I went through my fair share of adversity in Montreal, but also I look back and I think Montreal is what led me here,” Lindgren said. “I got to learn from one of the best goalies all time in Carey Price, and that is priceless … being around [Jordan] Binnington, [Ville] Husso, Joel Hofer [in St. Louis]. I’ve been around so many good goalies, and iron sharpens iron.”

It’s hard to miss Lindgren on the ice, his bushy mustache clear as day behind his goalie mask. You hear his laugh and banter; he’s always smiling and cracking a joke. He prides himself in being a “good team guy” and one who helps others around him improve.

Lindgren’s competitive nature comes from growing up in a hockey family — his younger brother, Ryan, plays for the New York Rangers. His father and middle brother, Andrew, both were goalies.

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“Chuck is an awesome guy,” T.J. Oshie said. “ … l love that guy. He’s been great in the locker room and also on the ice working with guys, doing the extra stuff in practice and doing the little games at the end, that’s the fun stuff and when you bond and get better. That is a great tandem back there, and I’m excited for them to get to work.”

Lindgren had a couple of Capitals connections before he came to Washington. He knew Nic Dowd from their time at St. Cloud State (Minn.). Lindgren was a freshman when Dowd was a senior and captain for the Huskies. Nick Jensen also played for St. Cloud but left a year before Lindgren arrived. Lindgren and Jensen have gotten closer over the years, often working out with Dowd in the summer.

Lindgren and Dowd are close friends, and Lindgren gave Dowd’s son, Louie, his goalie stick Friday after practice. Dowd described Lindgren as “one of the hardest-working goalies” he has ever played with.

“When I signed with Washington, obviously, [me and Dowd] were both really excited,” Lindgren said. “Like I said, we train together in the summers. So we were as thrilled as it gets. I have a ton of respect for Dowder. When I was freshman, being around him, he was like the first pro I ever really saw. Just the way he took care of his body and the way he competed, I learned a lot from him.”