Tough outing vs. Maple Leafs 'a bump in the road' for Canadiens' Primeau

Auston Matthews scored his 40th goal of the season as the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-2.

This will be a short stumble over what’s probably going to be a long and successful career in the NHL for Cayden Primeau, but he’ll never forget getting shelled by the Toronto Maple Leafs on this night.

You cherish the first time you start an NHL game and the first time you win one, and you lament the first time it gets away from you completely. Either way, you remember it all, because these are the events that help shape who you become.

You hope there will be many more highs than lows by the time you’re slinging your pads over a hook for the last time. But if you wear them long enough, you’re going to experience plenty of both.

Jake Allen knows, and the 30-year-old who’s started 318 NHL games and played several he’d like a mulligan on, felt it imperative to console the young protégé.

“I just talked to him in the dressing room there, just me and him,” Allen said of Primeau, who allowed four goals on 15 shots through the first period and watched the rest of this 5-2 loss from the bench.

“I said, look, it’s a bump in the road for him,” Allen continued. “I can tell how good of a goalie he is, how good of a kid he is. He’s going to be, once (Carey Price’s) legacy goes on, this guy’s going to be the guy here. You’ve got to fail to succeed in anything, that’s the way I look at it. You’ve got to fail to succeed in this league—especially as a goalie. It’s just a bump in the road for him. It’s unfortunate, I’m sure he’s going to take it hard like all young guys do, and I would’ve done the same thing, but he’s gotta move on and get back and be ready to go for us. We’re going to need him again.”

Perhaps even before this season wraps, with three games remaining and Price still recovering from a concussion.

It’s a good thing Primeau was shown some mercy in light of that. Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme said he had even considered pulling the kid out of the game earlier, but he didn’t want to send Allen in cold with Price already sidelined.

“I just wanted (Primeau) to battle to the end of the first,” Ducharme said.

The kid did as best as he could with the Canadiens deflated and lumbering around, and that’s also part of the process. It’s good that he’s here living it; the 199th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft who ascended faster than anyone expected and already owns a couple of wins over a handful of starts. And this experience—for as miserable as it was—will only put another log on the fire that already rages inside him.

This was a tough spot to be in for the 21-year-old to begin with—on the second night of a back-to-back and just 24 hours after the Canadiens had a no-show in a 5-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators. The second youngest goaltender currently on an NHL active roster was going to have to be a difference maker against a Toronto team that hadn’t played since blowing a 2-1 lead and losing 3-2 in overtime on Monday at the Bell Centre, a Toronto team with the most prolific offence in the North Division.

Primeau’s intentions were good, but execution eluded him. Especially on the game’s first shot, which came just 16 seconds in—a backhand that came wobbling off Alex Galchenyuk’s stick. He got his glove on Jake Muzzin’s point shot two minutes and seven seconds later, but, instead of catching the puck, deflected it to John Tavares for a tap in.

Pierre Engvall took a bad-angle shot and scooped in his own rebound on the short side a little over halfway through the first period, and Mitch Marner deked Primeau out of his crease to add insult to injury with 3:39 remaining in the frame.

The two things that happened when it ended were things Primeau should also remember. First, Ducharme let him know he wasn’t going to expose him any further—even with Allen needing rest and another game looming on Saturday—and then his teammates all rallied around him as he stood shell-shocked outside Montreal’s room.

The cameras behind the scenes at Scotiabank Arena caught them tapping his pads and telling him it wasn’t his fault. And after the game, they caught Primeau’s teammates repeating the same.

“It’s our fault,” Ben Chiarot started. “We were flat in front of him, didn’t give him any help. Young goalie going in there, we have to be sharp—especially early on to let him find his groove—and we didn’t do that. That was on us, not him.”

Tomas Tatar sang that tune, as well.

Then he referenced the schedule that’s seen the Canadiens play at least three more games than any other team in the North Division since Mar. 30 and talked about having to go through the second half of a back-to-back without several key players.

It didn’t help matters when top centre Phillip Danault, who was on the wrong side of the first two goals against, left the game with an upper-body injury that had apparently been nagging him a few days.

The Canadiens had another chance to get themselves as close to locking in a playoff spot as possible, and it evaporated before five minutes had been played.

“We spotted them a few goals,” said Chiarot. “It’s an uphill battle from there.”

It looked like it was going to be an Everest climb without oxygen tanks. That the Canadiens managed to pull it together and get goals from Cole Caufield and Artturi Lehkonen to make this a game, and that they stayed in until Auston Matthews buried his 40th of the season with 4:19 remaining, preserved some dignity.

Primeau knows it might have played out differently if he had prevented that first wound. He knows he needed to stop the bleeding after that. It’s why when the cameras caught him in that hallway, you could see how disappointed he was.

He knows he got himself to the NHL ahead of schedule by routinely making saves on the type of shots that beat him early, and hopefully he knows he’ll continue on in this league making them more often than not.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Allen was there to remind Primeau of that immediately.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself as a person, as a goalie through my NHL hockey career, and I think that’s just what he’s going to do,” said Allen. “I said to him, he’s going to have other blips on the radar in the upcoming future, that’s just hockey. As a goalie, it’s just magnified more than a player…

“Goalies always want to have every puck. I’m sure Cayden would’ve said he might want a couple of those back. But it’s a bump in the road, and he’s a good goalie and a great kid. That’s all I can say. He’s going to mature on his own, on his own terms, and the way he takes it is the way he takes it. I think he’s going to do the right thing (because) he’s got a great mindset.”

The Canadiens will have to show some mental fortitude, as well. With three games remaining, they have to find something much better than what they showed over the last 24 hours, and not because the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks are burning out bald tires behind them—the Canadiens could lose all three games in regulation and they’d still be the most likely team of the three to participate in the playoffs—but because it’s vital to take some good momentum forward.

“We’re trying to build our game right now at the right time,” said Allen. “The playoffs, and worrying about clinching and all, that’s too much noise on the side. We’re worried about just trying to build our game and find ways to get better and we didn’t do that tonight.”

The young goalie will recover and thrive in due time, and the other Canadiens players better do it immediately.

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