Canadiens falter in third period against Panthers

Goalie Cayden Primeau can’t catch anything with his glove hand, it seems.

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The Florida Panthers, who advanced to the Stanley Cup final last season before losing to Vegas, were sitting around in Montreal since late Tuesday evening.

The Canadiens, meanwhile, concluded a five-game road trip Wednesday night with a victory at Columbus and were forced to play the Panthers on 24 hours’ notice.

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Little wonder Montreal was drubbed 5-1 Thursday night at the Bell Centre. But the Panthers’ margin of victory was misleading, according to Brendan Gallagher. Indeed, the Canadiens were only trailing by a goal through two periods before the floodgates opened over the final 20 minutes.

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“To be honest, through 40 minutes I thought we were the better team,” Gallagher said. “We didn’t have a lead. Obviously they score a quick goal to start the (third) period. We’re chasing a little bit. But it wasn’t one of those games. We lost to L.A. and got outplayed. We lost to Boston and got outplayed. We didn’t get outplayed tonight. They were probably more opportunistic.

“They got the win but I think, more times than not, if we play like that we’re probably on the other side of the result.”

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Aleksander Barkov opened the scoring seven minutes into the second period. It was Barkov’s 23rd goal in 32 games against the Canadiens.

In the third period, the visitors scored four goals on only 11 shots against beleaguered netminder Cayden Primeau.

The floodgates opened early when Sam Bennett made it 2-0 only eight seconds in. Evan Rodrigues, Carter Verhaeghe, on the power play, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, with 11 seconds remaining in the third period, scored Florida’s other goals. The Panthers almost scored a fifth time in that fateful period but, following a video review, it was determined Sam Reinhart’s high shot struck the crossbar and not the netting in behind Primeau.

Nonetheless, all five goals beat Primeau to his glove side in an exercise that was becoming painful to witness. Primeau was making his fifth appearance this season and was playing for the first time since stopping 31 of 33 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory at San Jose last Friday.

But he stopped only 24 of 29 shots against the Panthers for a less-than-flattering .828 save percentage.

Not only isn’t this three-man goaltender rotation working for the Canadiens, it’s not fair to Samuel Montembeault and Jake Allen, who need to play more regularly. Montreal management obviously is concerned about exposing Primeau on waivers before sending him to its AHL affiliate in Laval, but it might be time to roll the dice. While Primeau only is 24 and it takes some goalies longer to develop, there’s also a reason he was selected 199th overall in 2017.

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In 26 career games, including 22 starts, the 6-foot-3, 207-pounder has a 5-15-2 record, 4.02 goals-against average and .875 save percentage.

Cayden Primeau looks behind him to see a puck in the net
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Cayden Primeau is scored on by Florida Panthers’ Evan Rodrigues during third period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. Photo by Graham Hughes /The Canadian Press

“I think I’ve done a good job all year of not second-guessing myself,” said the soft-spoken Primeau. “They got two in the same spot and that played in my head a little bit. Not ideal but you can learn from it.

“I’ve felt like my glove has been pretty good this year. It just played in my head a little bit and that can’t happen. You start doing things a little differently. You can’t do that. When you start second-guessing yourself, things can go south pretty quick. Goals go in. You can be doing all the right things and they still score in the same spot. I’m going to have to regroup.”

Defenceman Johnathan Kovacevic scored Montreal’s only goal, nearly halfway through the third period, or Sergei Bobrovsky would have recorded his third November shutout. Nonetheless, Florida concluded its three-game Canadian swing with five of a possible six points, improving to 14-7-2.

The Canadiens had won three of their last four but failed to climb over the .500 mark with the defeat, dropping to 10-11-2. Montreal went 0-for-6 on the power play against Florida and is now in a 0-for-23 funk over its last eight games. Meanwhile, the Canadiens’ record is 0-4 in back-to-back games and they’ve been outscored 19-5.

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While Kovacevic’s goal was his fourth in 23 games, surpassing by one the number he produced in 77 matches last season, it also was the 18th score from a Montreal defenceman. Canadiens rearguards have produced 28 per cent of the team’s 64 goals.

And, while Josh Anderson’s still seeking his first goal this season following 23 games, he deserved to be awarded a penalty shot late in the first period after being tripped on a breakaway by Gustav Forsling. Anderson had five hits against Florida players, his frustration clearly growing. He took his anger out in the game’s final minute, putting a beating on Jonah Gadjovich in a one-sided fight.

Alex Newhook grimaces on his knees behind the net
Montreal Canadiens’ Alex Newhook grimaces after crashing into the Florida Panthers net during the third period of a National Hockey League game in Montreal Thursday Nov. 30, 2023. Newhook had to be helped off the ice and didn’t return to the game. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

Finally, forward Alex Newhook will be re-evaluated on Friday after suffering a lower-body injury in the third period. The Canadiens entertain Detroit Saturday night and the organization will honour the Grey Cup-champion Alouettes.

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