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Primeau proves he’s the future in Canadiens 3-2 loss to the Rangers

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It’s coming, Montreal Canadiens fans. It is.

But it’s not here yet.

The Habs almost cancelled out one of their worst starts of the season at Madison Square Garden. But in the end, Julien Gauthier’s third period goal proved to be the game-winner as the New York Rangers held off the Montreal Canadiens comeback bid.

The Habs have dug themselves a near insurmountable hole through 18 games. Fans, media and even some of the players know it. But the way the team pushed back the final 40 minutes showed that there are elements of their collective game that are rounding into form.

It just all feels too little, too late. Unfortunately, just like their effort against the Blueshirts.

Slowest of starts

The Montreal Canadiens played one of their worst periods of defensive hockey against the Rangers. Shockingly bad.

It’s not as if the game was a track meet early on. No, the Habs simply made schoolboy errors that had to have greyed the remaining hairs on head coach Dominique Ducharme’s head.

Turnovers in front of their own net. Players not picking up free men in blue. Not closing tightly on your opponent. Basic stuff that professionals bafflingly overlooked.

In the end, the Habs were made to pay for their carelessness before the intermission. Artemi Panarin beat Chris Wideman off the boards and into the slot where Ryan Strome found him. Panarin’s shot was blocked by Wideman and stayed stuck between his legs. Goaltender Cayden Primeau came out to challenge but couldn’t find the puck, losing his net in the process. Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli were caught in no man’s land as Kaapo Kakko came creeping in from the blueline. The Finn made no mistake into the open net to give New York the 1-0 lead.

Cayden claims the net

In the first period, per Natural Stat Trick, the Rangers had six high-danger scoring chances.

That seems way off based on the saves that Primeau had to make in his season debut.

The seventh-round pick in 2017 answered the call repeatedly for the Montreal Canadiens. He started things off with a huge slot save on one of the hottest scorers in the game Chris Kreider. Next, it was the returning Filip Chytil who was stopped on back-to-back big chances by Primeau. Alexis Lafreniere looked set to get one over on his hometown team only for Primeau to flash the glove.

No disrespect to Samuel Monetmbeault. But had it been him in nets instead of Primeau, the Canadiens likely would have been looking down the barrel of a multi-goal deficit going into the second period.

The Habs must have been read the riot act during the first intermission because they found their focus in the second period. Christian Dvorak, looking much more comfortable back in between Jonathan Drouin and Josh Anderson, caught Igor Shesterkin briefly napping to tie things up at 1-1 at the side of the net.

Kreider did get his revenge late in the period, making it 2-1 courtesy of an unreal saucer pass from Mika Zibanejad on a 4-on-2.  But it could have been game over had it not been for Primeau with less than three minutes left in the period.

The Canadiens goaltender came up with arguably the save of the season on Ryan Strome. The Rangers centreman looked set to snipe in the slot but Primeau flashed the glove, committing grand larceny in the process.

Them the fighting Habs

Call it madness, call it hubris. Call it gutsy indeed. Just before Kredier’s go-ahead goal, Michael Pezzetta decided to challenge heavyweight champions of the league Ryan Reaves.

The fight was predictably one-sided, as Pezzetta was fed his and his family’s lunch money for the year by the Rangers big man. But it did light a combative fire under the Montreal Canadiens as they upped the grit factor the rest of the way.

The game was in danger of going off the rails for the Habs early in the third. Suzuki was caught being far too casual on the puck directly in front of his net by Gauthier and it cost him. The Point-Aux-Trembles native beat Primeau with a backhand roof job to make it 3-1.

But the Canadiens responded right back just 22 seconds later. Dvorak shot for a rebound from the right just inside New York’s blueline. Josh Anderson got a quick tip on the goal-bound shot, forcing Shesterkin to push the rebound right into his path. Anderson made no mistake with a quick shot upstairs to cut the lead back to 3-2.

The Habs kept the grittiness going as they searched for the equalizer. The visitors sent several masses of humanity towards Shesterkin’s goal. But that left the Canadiens vulnerable going the other way. Again, Primeau was called into action on a long cross-ice feed to Jacob Trouba at the far post and again on Barclay Goodrow all alone in front.

Rage

Despite their best efforts, the Habs couldn’t find ways to get inside for prime scoring chances as the clock ticked away. The Canadiens were only able to muster three high-danger scoring chances in the third per Natural Stat Trick. Brendan Gallagher let the frustration of a 4-12-2 start get the better of him as he clocked Goodrow in the face with less than a minute left. Anderson dropped them with Trouba as time expired for good measure as well.

The Montreal Canadiens were only able to pick up one of a possible six points on their three-game road trip. The Habs are back at home on Thursday to take on Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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