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Canadiens Postgame

Primeau, First Line Limit Damage In Canadiens Loss To Rangers

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The Montreal Canadiens took a trip to New York on Sunday evening to face the high-flying Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Montreal was outclassed by a rather wide margin, a predictable result given the situation for both teams.

The Habs are rebuilding, the Rangers are the best team in the league, and the Canadiens played the previous night in Montreal against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

New York emerged with a 5-2 win, but things could have been much worse if not for some solid play from the usual suspects.

Let’s dive into those highlights!

Neutral Zone Play

If there’s one thing the Canadiens miss from their once-dominant Brendan Gallagher, Philip Danault, and Tomas Tatar line, it is their ability to generate chances off the rush.

To do that, you need all three players to contribute by offering outlet options to defencemen, controlling the neutral zone with quick and clean passes, and of course, the most necessary element is the controlled entry, which allows the team to generate high-quality scoring chances.

Nick Suzuki is one of the few players on the team who can create a controlled entry at 5v5, but it’s simply not enough to have just one player who excels in transition.

Thankfully, Juraj Slafkovsky has taken it upon himself to help out in that department, a rather encouraging sign given all the other positive elements he has already added to his game this season.

He has the wingspan to become a menace in transition, now he simply needs to work on repetition to perfect the art of the controlled entry.

A Good ‘Bad’ Year

As is tradition, the Habs counted on their top line to maintain some semblance of respectability from an offensive standpoint.

There are two things worth keeping in mind from Cole Caufield’s 24th goal of the year.

The first is that David Savard made the right decision to send a puck down low where Caufield could create chaos.

The second is that Caufield has had some of the worst shooting luck in recent NHL history, and yet he’s still well on his way to scoring 25 goals, with an outside chance to score 30.

It should also be noted his goal on Sunday night wasn’t just his 24th of the season, it was his fourth in as many games. It seems like the young sniper is intent on finishing the 2023-24 campaign on the right foot.

One of the more interesting aspects of his recent scoring spree is that Caufield has pivoted away from his usual shot selection, which involves him beating a goalie with a clean shot taken from a distance.

He’s much more active around the net, and his style change is giving him a variety of scoring options.

Prime Water

While the top line was getting results, the same cannot be said about the rest of the lineup. Fortunately for the Canadiens, Primeau held the fort while the Rangers put together dominant shifts in the offensive zone.

Now that Primeau no longer has to wait a month between starts he can focus on preparing for games and the results have been quite good, especially when compared to his early-season outings.

The Rangers would end up with a well-deserved two-goal lead midway through the period, but it did not erase the solid play from Primeau.

The first goal against was a deflection, the second was a tip on the powerplay, and the third was scored by one of the best players in the league who was given way too much space in the Canadiens’ offensive zone.

Primeau faced a dozen high-danger chances at 5v5, not to mention almost 40 shots on net during all-situations play.  Thanks to him, the scoreline ended up being quite flattering for the road team.

 

The Canadiens made it interesting in the third period when both Mike Matheson and Alex Newhook used their speed and penchant for executing quick plays to cut the Rangers’ lead to one goal.

It wasn’t enough to push the game to overtime, but it was Newhook’s 13th goal of the year in addition to being Matheson’s 57th point of the season. He has a fair chance to hit 60 points this season, which would be the first time a Canadiens blueliner reaches the 60-point mark since P.K. Subban in 2015-16.

Say what you will about Matheson’s defence, but his offensive awareness is a breath of fresh air in this Canadiens lineup. It was also refreshing to see a little offence come from anywhere but the first line.

The Rangers put the game out of reach when Josh Anderson, who has been a disaster in all three zones this season, gave away the puck in the defensive zone.

We don’t have to dwell on this play, as Anderson’s shortcomings have been well-advertised this season. The good news is that things couldn’t possibly get worse, and there’s always tomorrow.

The Montreal Canadiens are back in action on Tuesday. They will host the Philadelphia Flyers at the Bell Centre. The puck drop is scheduled for 7 pm ET.


All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via Natural Stat Trick.