Stu Cowan: Canadiens' Cayden Primeau embraces his new opportunity

“It definitely was a confidence boost when they make a decision like that,” goalie says about Habs trading veteran Jake Allen last week.

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Cayden Primeau had a noticeable bounce in his step and a brighter sparkle in his eye walking around the Canadiens’ locker room after practice Monday in Brossard.

He also had a new locker stall at the CN Sports Complex.

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Primeau has moved from the far corner of the locker room to the opposite side and opposite corner, closer to the door that leads to the ice. It’s the spot veteran Jake Allen had occupied before being traded to the New Jersey Devils on Friday and is directly across from where Samuel Montembeault now sits in Carey Price’s old locker stall.

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“Walking to the ice this morning was a lot shorter,” Primeau said with a grin after Monday’s practice.

GM Kent Hughes put an end to the Canadiens’ uncomfortable three-goalie rotation when he traded Allen in exchange for a conditional third-round pick at the 2025 NHL Draft. You can make an argument that there will be less pressure on Primeau now in each of his starts. You can also make an argument there will be more pressure as he tries to convince team management that he can be Montembeault’s backup moving forward.

“It definitely was a confidence boost when they make a decision like that,” Primeau said.

Primeau will make his first start since Allen was traded Tuesday night at the Bell Centre against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Primeau said he texted Allen after the trade to wish him all the best in New Jersey and also thank him for being a mentor.

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“When you have someone that’s so important and instrumental to your team — on the ice, off the ice, leadership, vet, just as a person — it’s never easy to have them there every day and then the next day not,” Primeau said. “It’s going to take some getting used to, but happy for him and excited for the opportunity.”

Primeau said he took nothing but positives from the three-goalie situation. He said it was better for him to be in an NHL environment on a daily basis, facing NHL shots in practice, than it would have been playing more with the AHL’s Laval Rocket. The three-goalie situation also allowed him to do extra work with goalie coach Éric Raymond and to work on the mental side of his game — not looking back on bad goals and only focusing on the next shot. The 24-year-old was able to do that after allowing five goals on 29 shots — all to his glove side — in a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Nov. 30 at the Bell Centre. Primeau bounced back with a 46-save performance in his next start, a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres in Buffalo on Dec. 9.

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Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jackets, Primeau had a 5-6-2 record with a 3.04 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.

Primeau thought the three-goalie system would last all season. He’s now hoping his starts will be more regular over the final five weeks of the season and he’s looking forward to only having two goalies during practices. He will also get to dress for every game now, whether he’s playing or as a backup. Primeau added that his friendly competition with Montembeault will continue.

“We want to see each other succeed, but we want to be the one in the net at the end of the day,” Primeau said. “Rooting for him when he’s in the net and definitely trying to make each other better.”

Head coach Martin St. Louis believes Primeau has “taken a jump” this season with the three-goalie system.

“You think about the three-goalie rotation and it’s not an easy thing for the goalies,” St. Louis said after practice Monday. “I think for Jake it was probably harder to gain anything out of that because of where he is in his career. But you look at a goalie like Prims, who’s young. How are you going to grow … is it more games or more practice time? So I feel like Prims has had a lot of practice time. In the three-goalie situation, is that part of his growth because he had more practice time? We’ll never know. But we’re happy where he is right now with the situation we were in this year. He’s taken a jump. Is it more practices … is it more time with his goalie coach? I don’t know, but we’re happy where he is.”

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Defenceman Jayden Struble is happy to see Primeau getting this opportunity. They were teammates last season in Laval and they both attended Northeastern University.

“As a person, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll meet,” Struble said about Primeau following Tuesday’s morning skate at the Bell Centre. “Super-caring and just friendly. Not really outgoing … a little bit shy. But once you get to know him, he’s a great guy.

“Goalie-wise, he was unbelievable at Northeastern, unbelievable here,” Struble added. “Just athletic and quick. He’s a smart kid on and off the ice. I’m rooting for him and I know he can get the job done.”

We’re about to find out if he can.

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