The Canadiens lost for the ninth time in their last 10 games — they have a 1-6-3 record in that span — but coach Claude Julien was encouraged by the play of rookie goaltender Cayden Primeau.
Primeau made his NHL debut Thursday and stopped 32 of 35 shots he faced in a 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, a team that happens to boast the No. 1 offence in the NHL.
“Everybody knows … you could tell he was nervous in the first period,” Julien said. “He’d probably love to have those (first) two goals back. One was a loose puck that he didn’t freeze it quick enough. At the same time, we need to take away that guy that pokes the puck in — that’s on us, too. And the other one was from a bit of a tough angle.
“But he made some big saves after that,” Julien said. “The more the game went on, the more comfortable he got, the more he seemed to be confident and everything else. I like the way he gave us a chance to get back in this game with some of the big saves he made in the second period and even in the third.”
“I tried to give the team the best opportunity to win,” said the 20-year-old Primeau, who was called up from the Laval Rocket this week after the Canadiens lost confidence in backup Keith Kinkaid. “Every play is huge, every goal counts, every goal matters. One save is the difference between a 2-0 and 3-0 or 1-0. Just always trying to give your team the best opportunity to win.”
Brendan Gallagher, who scored his 12th goal, was impressed with Primeau’s debut.
“He made some really big saves,” Gallagher said. “When we were down 3-0, his compete level was really high and he gave us a chance to come back. He can take a lot of pride in the way he played tonight. This was his first game and it would have been nice to get a win for him.”
The Canadiens threw everything but the kitchen sink at Colorado goalie Pavel Francouz in the third period when they outshot the Avalanche 17-7. The Canadiens closed to 3-2 on an early power-play goal by Nick Cousins, but Francouz made a big save on Artturi Lehkonen with six minutes to play and shut the door when Gallagher tried to score on a wraparound.
“He played pretty well, you have to give him credit,” Gallagher said. “But as goal scorers we have to beat him. The third period was probably our best period, but it’s hard to come back after going down 3-0.”
Julien wasn’t happy with Nikita Zadorov’s contact with Jesperi Kotkaniemi, which left the Finnish teenager dazed after he hit his head on the ice on his first shift. There was no penalty on the play, but Julien made the case for supplemental discipline.
“I didn’t like it,” Julien said. “It wasn’t your classic slew-foot (Zadorov’s) leg went inside (Kotkaniemi’s leg) and he used his upper body to flip him. I don’t know how the league is going to see it, but I talked to some of our management people and we feel it was a suspendable offence.”
Julien said he didn’t have an update on Kotkaniemi’s condition, but he landed on his head and the back of his neck and was dazed as he left the ice. He didn’t travel to New York for Friday’s game against the Rangers (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio)
Primeau wasn’t the only Canadien to make his NHL debut Thursday.
Finnish defenceman Otto Niskanen, who was called up from Laval Wednesday, played on the third pairing with rookie Cale Fleury, but was limited to 7:37 of ice time. He had two hits, blocked a shot and was a plus-1, but he also gave the puck away three times.
It was yet another game when the top three of Ben Chiarot, Shea Weber and Jeff Petry were asked to play big minutes. Chiarot was on the ice for 28:54 and that marked the third time in the last four games that he played more than 28 minutes. Weber played 25:24 and Petry logged 24:38. None of the other three defencemen played more than 16 minutes.