Cayden Primeau gets first win in almost two years as Canadiens beat Detroit in OT

Canadiens 3, Red Wings 2 (OT). Goalie makes 27 saves before Cole Caufield scores the winning goal.

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The last time Cayden Primeau had won a game in goal for the Canadiens, Dominique Ducharme was still the head coach.

That was on Dec. 16, 2021, when Primeau stopped 37 of 39 shots in a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers at the Bell Centre. Since then, Primeau had an 0-12-1 record with the Canadiens.

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So it was surprising when head coach Martin St. Louis announced that Primeau would start in goal Thursday night in Detroit against the Red Wings with the Canadiens mired in a four-game winless streak (0-3-1). Almost as surprising as the Canadiens still carrying three goalies — including Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault — after 12 games this season. Primeau had only played in one game, making 29 saves in a 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 24 with the last goal an empty-netter.

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The decision to give Primeau his second start paid off as he made 27 saves in a 3-2 overtime win over the Red Wings. Cole Caufield scored the winning goal on a power play. Mike Matheson and Nick Suzuki (also on a power play) scored the other goals for the Canadiens, while Christian Fischer and J.T. Compher scored for Red Wings. When Matheson scored his third goal of the season at 7:02 of the first period, it marked the first time in seven games that the Canadiens scored the first goal, and they went on to improve their record to 6-5-2, while the Red Wings fell to 7-5-2.

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“It’s not easy for him with the three-goalie rotation, and the circumstances early in the season where our team is getting results, our goalies are playing well, so he kind of has to wait for his turn,” St. Louis told reporters in Detroit after the game when asked about Primeau. “He’s been a great teammate and a worker. He deserves to get a start and we thought tonight was the one and he took advantage of it.”

The Canadiens went 2-for-5 on the power play and killed off all four Detroit power plays. Caufield’s OT winner came after Red Wings goalie James Reimer took a dumb penalty. After he made a save and the play went the other way, Reimer held onto Caufield’s stick. The goal was the fifth of the season for Caufield and his first in six games.

Caufield had only gone five games without a goal once before since St. Louis took over as head coach in February 2022, and his longest slump last season was four games. Caufield ended this slump in style with a wicked wrist shot that beat Reimer high to the short side with 44 seconds left in OT. The Canadiens have won three games in OT this season and Caufield has scored the winner in all of them. He now has seven career OT goals.

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“He comes up big in those situations, so you like to look for him in those,” Suzuki told reporters in Detroit after assisting on Caufield’s goal.

Sean Monahan extended his point streak to seven games by assisting on Suzuki’s goal. Caufield leads the team in scoring with 5-8-13 totals, followed by Monahan (6-6-12) and Suzuki (5-7-12), who has scored a goal in three straight games and has 5-4-9 totals in the last seven.

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Putting Primeau in goal wasn’t the only change St. Louis made. The coach also split up Suzuki and Caufield as linemates. Suzuki played on a line with Alex Newhook and Josh Anderson, while Caufield was with Christian Dvorak and Juraj Slafkovsky.

“It’s not a big deal,” Suzuki told reporters in Detroit about the line juggling. “We lost four in a row … change it up. We hadn’t really been producing five-on-five, so throw a different look at them. I thought both lines did pretty well.

“I liked our whole game,” the captain added. “Guys stepped up. We didn’t like our game the last few ones. I thought we played a good game tonight. (Primeau) made a lot of big saves, big moments. Last year we didn’t really help him out too much in the games he was there. It was nice for him to get a win.”

Last season, Primeau had an 0-2-0 record with a 3.46 goals-against average and a .852 save percentage in the three games he played with the Canadiens. GM Kent Hughes is reluctant to send Primeau back to the AHL’s Laval Rocket because the 24-year-old would have to clear waivers and Hughes believes another NHL team will claim him. Primeau now has a career NHL record of 4-13-2 with a 3.98 GAA and a .875 save percentage.

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“It hasn’t been easy, I’m not going to lie,” Primeau told reporters in Detroit about the three-goalie situation. “But you got to do what you got to do to stay sharp whenever your name’s called. Not let the lows get too low and the highs get too high. I’ve been preaching that over the years and really putting into effect right now over the past couple of weeks.

“I felt like my feet were in good position all night,” he added. “I was seeing the puck well. It was definitely a good game.”

It will be interesting to see when Primeau gets another start.

The Canadiens have a busy weekend ahead at the Bell Centre with games against the Boston Bruins on Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, Citytv, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

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