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The Habs kicked off their three games this week with a favourable opponent visiting the Bell Centre in the Columbus Blue Jackets. This was a game where the Habs were trying to sweep the season series and trying to avoid a letdown after very strong performances last week against much stronger opponents. The Habs were lucky that Elvis Merzlikins was subpar to start the game as they scored three in the first five minutes to chase the starter. Columbus controlled the play for most of the rest of the night, but Primeau was on top of his game as he made 41 saves for the 3-0 shutout win.

Montreal’s Lines

Cole Caufield — Nick Suzuki — Juraj Slafkovsky
Joshua Roy – Alex Newhook – Joel Armia
Brendan Gallagher – Jake Evans — Josh Anderson
Tanner Pearson — Rafael Harvey-Pinard — Michael Pezzetta

Mike Matheson — Kaiden Guhle
Arber Xhekaj – David Savard
Jayden Struble – Johnathan Kovacevic

Cayden Primeau

10 Thoughts Recap

1) Everything came up roses for the Habs to start this game as they led 3-0 by the time the 5:48 mark arrived. It was three goals on less than eight shots and meant a quick end to the night for Merzlikins. The first goal was started with an excellent Xhekaj pinch in the neutral zone that led to a strong play down low by Evans who found Gallagher in the slot.

2) The second goal saw Matheson make a nice play to secure the faceoff win which allowed the Habs to control the puck on their power play. Moments later, Matheson received a pass from Caufield and quickly put it right into Slafkovsky’s wheelhouse who powered through a one-timer for a nice PPG. The third goal was Newhook using his speed to transition from the defensive zone to the offensive zone. There, he found Xhekaj on the blueline who sent a shot that Roy tipped home.

3) The penalties were 4-2 against the Canadiens in the first but this was predictable after the pressure Columbus started to put on after the Habs jumped out in front early; Montreal struggled to defend that pressure.

4) The second half of the period was the Primeau show as he made a few extremely flashy saves en route to a 22-save performance as the Habs unfortunately took their foot off the pedal after the early onslaught.

5) The Habs started the second period on a 4-on-3 penalty kill after penalties to Gallagher, Guhle, and Sean Kuraly. They defended it well and even finished the sequence with a great pass by Xhekaj to Guhle coming out of the zone that sent in Guhle who rang a shot off the crossbar. Aside from that push, it was all Columbus for the better part of the opening 15 minutes of the period.

6) Xhekaj absolutely destroyed Jake Bean with a strong clean hit approximately halfway into the period. This caused the physicality of the game to momentarily increase as Kuraly then took a run at Guhle. Given the Jackets’ complete control of the pace of play, it was a nice effort by Xhekaj to get the Habs back into the game.

7) It was an absolutely terrific zone entry by Newhook and Roy that finally gave the Habs the confidence to get moving again. It resulted in a few great chances for Struble and Anderson, and then the top line joined and had a few strong shifts to end the period. Montreal actually ended up with more shots in the period, an 11-8 score that I think was a bit of an injustice to the first 15 minutes of the period for the Blue Jackets.

8) Anderson started the third with a blatant hooking penalty. The Habs killed the sequence aided by some strong Primeau play and a big-time shot block by Armia who also had another strong game.

9) Montreal’s fourth line and Pearson had a strong shift that finally resulted in a Columbus penalty. The ensuing power play looked good but they were not able to score on the occasion.

10) The final eight minutes saw the Habs keeping the Jackets to the outside other than a needless high-stick penalty by Carson Meyer on Guhle. The Habs should have played it safe on their last man advantage of the night, but they instead allowed two glorious scoring chances for Columbus who once again were faced with insane Primeau saves as the cherry on top of the shutout sundae.

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars

1st Star – Cayden Primeau

After an extremely strong start to the season by Primeau, I’ve been openly critical of him lately as I’ve found him shaky despite strong numbers. This looked much more like the early-season Primeau as he was sharp and in control of his rebounds throughout the night. For the record, I remain very positive on the overall progression of Primeau this season. I equate the 23-24 Primeau to the first year the Habs acquired Samuel Montembeault. There were excellent performances, but they were uneven, and they’ve improved steadily every season since. If Primeau can have that same progression, the Habs can have a stellar duo in a few short seasons, when they’ll need it most.

Stats: 41-save shutout, 1.00 save %, 0.00 GAA, 60:00 T.O.I.

2nd Star – Arber Xhekaj

The first few games after his recall were rough for Xhekaj, but he’s looked like a completely different player since being paired with David Savard. It was much the same on this night as he’s alertly picking his spots to be aggressive, making great decisions with the puck, and has started hitting the net with his shot, one of his most important attributes last season, in my opinion.

Stats: 1 assist, +2, 3 shots, 3 hits, 17:14 T.O.I.

3rd Star – Alex Newhook and Joshua Roy

I decided to call on the duo as the third nod for this night. They both played a strong game individually, as Newhook used his speed to make plays in all three zones and open some ice for those around him. Roy is really finding his footing as the chemistry with Newhook is installing itself. Roy has started using his shot, and more importantly, using a high hockey IQ to make excellent plays that make the game easier for those around him. It’s not a surprise that Armia has had his best sequence of the season playing next to these two, and one can only salivate at the idea of those two on the wings of Kirby Dach next season. Even better, it’ll take important pressure off the incoming draft pick to produce immediately.

Newhook Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 hit, 16:11 T.O.I.

Roy Stats: 1 goal, +1, 1 shot, 1 hit, 10:43 T.O.I.