LAVAL, QC – Friday night, the Laval Rocket and Manitoba Moose met up at Place Bell for the second time this week. This article was supposed to recap those games as a set, but the Rocket changed my plans when a familiar – albeit absent – face returned to the lineup. For the record, the Rocket overcame two three-goal deficits to force overtime; they could not seal the deal in the extra frame and skated off with just a single point on the night in the standings and a 5-4 loss.
Following a head injury that resulted in a concussion, Rocket goaltender Cayden Primeau was sidelined over the past month. He returned to action Friday night against the Moose. Primeau has a pretty strong record against the Moose, boasting a 7-0-1 record heading into the night, and the Rocket had good reason to feel confident after their dominant win on Wednesday. The Moose regrouped and came out swinging this time, pulling ahead by three through the second period while blanking the home team. The Rocket kept pushing and returned for the third ready to fight for their lives.
Laval tallied one that Manitoba quickly got back, then scored three more unanswered. They pulled off what might have been a comeback if it hadn’t been for overtime. The Moose earned table point No. 2 nearly three minutes into the bonus hockey. Visiting goalie Arvid Holm put on a clinic for the better part of three periods. The last three Rocket goals came from the home side playing with Primeau pulled in favor of an extra skater. The Moose found an answer for the Rocket’s transition game and penchant for hoarding possession.
But that’s enough about that. We’re here to discuss Primeau in his return to action.
Overall, the showing from Primeau was just about what one might expect from a goaltender that’s been out following a concussion. Primeau is a solid goalie that relies on his reaction time and reflexes to make a save, and it’s only natural that being out of game situations for a month results in slower reaction times. As the game progressed, he found his rhythm and got more comfortable in the paint.
Goal by goal, let’s break down Primeau’s game:
The Moose opened the scoring with an excellent takeaway by Dominic Toninatio. A pass back to Primeau overshot, and the Rocket netminder tried to settle it down and pass it back out of the zone. Toninato had other plans; he stole the puck as it released off Primeau’s stick and tucked it into the open net as the rearguard dove across to get back into position. Should Primeau have had to take the pass? Probably not. The bobble on the pass back while an opposing shooter was in the lane put him in a dangerous situation. Chalk it up to rust or a lapse in judgment. Whatever you call it, goal No. 1 for the Moose was the ultimate test for a goalie who leans on his ability to recover position, and Primeau wasn’t up to the task.
Goal No. 2 is bound to be a polarizing one. The inconsistencies in how goaltender interference is called across the American and National Hockey Leagues make it difficult for spectators to know whether contact with the goalie is prohibited in the rulebook. Primeau took heavy contact on the goal, ruled good on the ice. The Moose skaters muscled into the zone and got a shot away before the contact was made. Was the contact unavoidable? I can’t say. Did the contact impede Primeau from saving the goal? I can’t say. Was there anything Primeau could have done to save the goal? Maybe. Could he have moved more in the crease or tracked the puck differently? Definitely, but that might not have made a difference. I’m not here to comment on whether the goal should or shouldn’t stand; Primeau took the contact, and a goal resulted. He was a little slow to get up but remained in the game, a good sign after returning from concussion recovery.
Goal No. 3 is one that Primeau wants back. There are arguments to be made that he had no chance on the first two; those same arguments cannot be made for the third one. Simply put, he lost the puck in the five-hole, and Wyatt Bongiovanni used the moment it took for Primeau to realize he didn’t have the puck to tap in his own rebound. It’s a goof, a blunder, one for the blooper reel, but it happens to even the best goalies. Notably, Primeau was a touch slow in the reaction time. As he gets back into the groove of playing, he should work those timing errors out.
What a set-up, what a snipe. A screen obstructed Primeau’s vision, but this is an example of a better effort from him on the night. Even as the puck gets to Daniel Torgersson, Primeau is with it the entire way. It isn’t until Torgersson stops and waits for the moment as Primeau gets stuck behind bodies that he elects to release. The screen is an incredibly effective tactic to employ against goalies – it’s so cliché, but they can’t stop what they can’t see. Primeau can’t get back across in time to stop the puck because he can’t see that Torgersson has it on his open stick side. If Primeau had seen the puck carrier a hair sooner, he might have been able to deny him the satisfaction.
The Moose took shots from the low slot with what seemed like pinpoint accuracy. In overtime, Jansen Harkins had the time to set up and pick his spot. Conversely, Primeau theoretically also had time to read Harkins and decide. Harkins went high, Primeau went low, and the game was done. The shot of Primeau on the ice in his crease, displaying body language that clearly communicates his disappointment in himself, sums it all up. There’s no harsher critic of Cayden Primeau than Cayden Primeau. His team clawed their way back into the game and forced overtime. He made one wrong decision and – probably to his mind – undid all the work the skaters in white did in the third period.
The goals against paint a picture of a goalie who is definitely getting back into the swing of things after a long recovery following a head injury. He didn’t make flashy saves or push himself too far in the name of showmanship, but he made the technical, positionally sound saves when his team needed him to and when he could. The Moose launched 35 shots at him, and Primeau turned away 30 of them. A few more games and fans should see him return to the form they’ve come to expect of him.
For now, the Rocket are headed to Toronto to square off against the Marlies on Sunday for an afternoon game.
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