Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens persist, shut out Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0

Two of the lower-ranked teams in the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets, met at the Bell Centre Tuesday night, with fans excited to see the home side with a strong chance to win. A bonus for this low-scoring Montreal club would be to see some goals for a change.

The Canadiens scored three times on their first four shots in only six minutes on their way to a 3-0 win over Columbus, as Cayden Primeau was masterful, stopping 42 shots.

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It must have been a massive relief for Cayden Primeau to win the backup job officially with the trading of Jake Allen. Primeau certainly played like he was in his element with a weight lifted off his shoulders. Primeau was called on to be outstanding, and he was.

In the first period, the Canadiens built a 3-0 lead despite being widely outshot. The Blue Jackets peppered Primeau with 22 shots in the opening 20 minutes. Primeau had a Goals Saved Above Expected of 2.1. That’s a phenomenal number. The Jackets should have been down only 3-2.

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Primeau looked so calm. He tracked the puck brilliantly. He didn’t have a lot of movement on even the most difficult shots, but when called upon to go laterally, he was over to the other side of the net in rapid fashion. Columbus must have felt a little upset, but the old adage ‘you’re gonna need a goalie’ always applies.

That was especially so in this one, when the Blue Jackets didn’t have an adequate goalie in the first six minutes. Montreal scored three times on their first four shots: Brendan Gallagher in the first minute with a redirect in front of the net, Mike Matheson on the power play with the perfect pass to his right to Juraj Slafkovsky for the one-timer, Joshua Roy with the deflection of a Arber Xhekaj point shot.

Click to play video: 'Call of the Wilde: Trade Deadline Day'
Call of the Wilde: Trade Deadline Day

That was three easy goals on four shots so Elvis left the building. At least, Merzlikins left the crease, then watched the rest of the contest. Montreal didn’t deserve a three-goal lead, but hockey isn’t always fair. In fact, have the clearly better goalie, and it’s hardly ever fair.

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Head Coach Martin St. Louis had to have had a chat with his troops in the first intermission, because 22 is not a total to give up every period. However, in the second period, the Blue Jackets poured on the forecheck better than anyone at the Bell Centre this season. They were relentless.

Primeau was perfect the rest of the way stopping all 42 shots. No one should worry that the still-young Primeau can’t do this in a backup role.

With his 3.56 Goals Saved Above Expected in this contest, Primeau moves higher than Samuel Montembeault in that important analytic for the entire season. Not bad at all for a goalie that many fans do not believe in yet.

Primeau is still only 24. That’s a baby in goalie years.

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The Canadiens continue to put in solid efforts and results when many others are now showing a lack of resolve as the season reaches its final dozen.

Look only so far as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators as to what can happen at the end of losing seasons.

Montreal persists. There are no goats for pride such as this exhibited night after night.

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The hole in the Canadiens’ roster has been clearly identified this season. It’s offensive lines two through four where all the club’s troubles are, and where the GM’s important work remains.

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On the first line, Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Juraj Slafkovsky are running an impressive 60-plus Goals Expected. They’re also improving offensively with Suzuki flirting with a points-per-game pace.

The defenders are not an issue on offence, either, with the crew scoring the third-highest total in the league behind only Colorado and Calgary, led by Mike Matheson’s best season of his career.

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Call of the Wilde

On forwards four through 12, though, Montreal has the worst goal totals in the entire league. It’s next season that the team needs to and will likely improve to, at least, middle of the pack.

Kirby Dach will return to centre with Alex Newhook and, likely, Joshua Roy to launch the second line.

Add hopes for the future shining as prospects. The hottest is Owen Beck, who has absolutely heated up in Saginaw. Beck is expected to be a solid, smart and defensive centre, but perhaps these recent totals suggest he’s been undervalued.

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Since joining the Spirit, Beck has an outstanding 42 points in 27 games. In that time frame, he is among the tops in the Ontario Hockey League. Beck also has 24 points in the last 12 games and is on a 14-game point streak.

After a stint in the American Hockey League in Laval to learn the pro game, Beck should help that Montreal goal total on lines three or four to get the about 50 to 60 goals the Canadiens need to be a winning team.

It certainly looks like the Canadiens hit on an early second-round pick in Beck. Historically, this pick has only a 30-per cent chance of success, so well done to the scouting staff as these are the bonuses that make a strong rebuild.

Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on after each Canadiens game.

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Call of the Wilde

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