Montreal Canadiens: Could Cayden Primeau Start a Game in Play-In Series?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 06: Cayden Primeau #30 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 06: Cayden Primeau #30 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens have been off for four months, but will Carey Price need a game off in the play-in series?

The Montreal Canadiens have not played a game since the middle of March, but we got official work last night they will be back soon. The NHL and the players voted on the memorandum of understanding between the two parties regarding the return to play protocol and agreed to accept the proposal.

This means the terms which we have heard over the past few days are now an official agreement and we will have summer hockey. Teams will now report to their cities for training camp on Monday and the 12 eastern teams will travel to Toronto on July 26 while the 12 western teams will move to Edmonton at that time.

By August 1, we will see the start of the first ever “play-in” series that aren’t really the playoffs but are basically just the playoffs. The Canadiens will take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Best-of-5 series and the winner will qualify for a playoff berth.

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The NHL is going to try to get these five playoff series played in about two months. The first play-in game is scheduled for August 1 and the last game of the Stanley Cup Final will be on October 2 at the very latest, and September 27 at the earliest. That is even quicker than they usually get through four rounds every year.

One way they plan on speeding things up is by having back to back games in every series. The Canadiens five game series with the Pens will only have three off days if it goes the distance. This means there will be a back to back scenario, and there will be three games played in a four day period.

Under normal circumstances, three games in four nights means any team would be using a backup goaltender in one of those games. Especially these days in the NHL, where more and more we see teams splitting duties rather than going with one guy for the majority of games.

But, would the Canadiens seriously consider starting anyone other than Carey Price against the Penguins in the play-in series? My initial reaction is there is no chance. But does it make sense? It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Penguins use both Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray in the series so they don’t have one guy playing three games in four nights. Should the Habs do the same?

Initially, it seems like Price should be just fine to play. The entire league, and most of the world, has taken the past four months off. Everyone should be healthier than ever. This break has been about as long as an offseason for a non-playoff team.

But, on the other hand, after being off for so long, does it make sense to throw Price into the fire and give him three starts in four days? With one exhibition game to get ready? It seems like a lot to ask a guy to not play a game for four months and then play five in eight days.

Price played back to back games on four occasions this season. The first one went well, with him stopping 22 of 24 shots against the Ottawa Senators in an overtime loss on November 20.

The next time he played on consecutive nights was on December 29. He allowed six goals on 34 shots in a loss to the Florida Panthers. On February 2, Price allowed three goals on 26 shots to the Columbus Blue Jackets in another loss. Two weeks later he allowed four goals on 26 shots in an overtime loss to the Dallas Stars.

In all, he had an 0-2-2 record with a .864 save percentage. That’s not good. The Canadiens are scheduled to play back to back games against the Pens on August 7 and 8 to finish their series. Based on his results this season, if Price plays both he will be somewhere between not great and terrible in the deciding Game 5.

Would the Habs dare try someone else in Game 4 to avoid this possibility? Playing on back to back nights, especially when it is the second and third games in four days, hasn’t been great for Price. It has been statistically proven over the past few years that goaltenders are not at their best playing on consecutive nights.

If the Canadiens decide to go with someone else for Game 4, who would it be? Keith Kinkaid was supposed to be his backup but he was sent to the minors before being loaned out to another team.

Charlie Lindgren has been given several opportunities to take over the backup role but never seems up to the task. In six games this season, he had a 3.33 GAA and an .888 SV%. I’d take Price for five straight nights instead of putting Lindgren in for a game.

But what about Cayden Primeau? He is just 20 years old and a rookie pro, but could he handle one game against the Penguins to give Price a night off? He only has two games of NHL experience this season but played well in both and had a .931 SV% in those contests. He was playing his best hockey down the stretch for the Laval Rocket before the AHL season was cancelled.

If it were up to me, I’d put Primeau in for one game. This would avoid the scenario where Price has to play three games in four days, and would give their young prospect netminder the experience of a high pressure game without the chaos of a sellout Bell Centre crowd. Plus, he would give the team a chance to win the game.

It’s unfortunate for Primeau that the back to back games come so late in the series. If the Habs first two games were on consecutive days I would expect to see Primeau in Game 2 so Price wouldn’t have to start the series with three games in four days, and likely an afternoon game in there somewhere just to throw things off a bit more.

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Seeing that the back to back is the last two games of the series, it will make it a little tougher for the Habs coaching staff to sit Price. Still, I think we could see Primeau get into this series for one game, so Price doesn’t go from nothing for four months to five games in eight days.