Nobody can say Claude Julien eased rookie goaltender Cayden Primeau into the NHL.
Primeau, who was a seventh-round draft choice in 2107 (199th overall), drew a tough assignment. With Julien deciding to go with Carey Price in an Eastern Conference game against the Rangers in New York Friday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN), Primeau faced the Colorado Avalanche, who boast the No. 1 offence in the NHL.
The Avalanche left town with a 3-2 victory, but the Canadiens and Primeau could take some good things away from the loss.
For starters, the 20-year-old wasn’t intimidated. He stopped 32 of 35 shots and kept the visitors at bay long enough for his teammates to mount a comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
The Canadiens clawed to within a goal when Nick Cousins scored a power-play goal early in the third period as the special teams had one of their better nights. The Canadiens did give up a short-handed goal, which proved to be the winner, but the power play went 1-for-3, while Colorado went 0-for-3 with the extra man.
The game started on a down note for the Canadiens when Colorado defenceman Nikita Zadorov, who is one of the biggest players in the league at 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, took Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s feet out from under him along the end boards. The Finn went airborne and his head struck the ice. He appeared disoriented as he tried to get up and he spent several minutes on the ice before he was led to the quiet room to go through the NHL concussion protocol. He did not accompany the team to New York and is out for an indefinite period.
The injury seemed to take some life out of the Canadiens and the Avalanche sprinted to a 2-0 lead.
Defenceman Ryan Graves opened the scoring when he beat Primeau during a goalmouth scramble after the goalie turned back shots from Cale Makar and Matt Calvert.
The second goal came off a strong rush by Gabriel Landeskog, who was returning to the Colorado lineup after missing 16 games with a lower-body injury. Landeskog went around Jeff Petry on the right wing and had time to square up and beat Primeau with a left-handed shot.
The Canadiens gained some momentum when Nathan MacKinnon tripped Artturi Lehkonen late in the first period. Montreal had four shots on the power play and outshot Colorado 8-0 over the final 5:24 of the period but couldn’t get a puck past Pavel Francouz,
The Canadiens had another power play in the second period, but that one didn’t pan out so well. Montreal turned the puck over at the Avs’ blue line and the result was a 2-on-1 break with Calvert converting a pass from J.T. Compher.
Montreal got one goal back before the second period ended. Brendan Gallagher worked a give-and-go with Phillip Danault. Gallagher was unable to deflect Danault’s shot from the wall, but Francouz couldn’t control the rebound and Gallagher scored his 12th goal of the season