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Cayden Primeau is finally looking primo

After some serious struggles at the NHL level, Primeau showed what he can do when he’s on top of his game.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Since it seems there will be no hockey for a while, I think it’s time we explore an incredibly divisive topic in the back rooms of this website: Cayden Primeau.

The day of the last Montreal Canadiens game started out like any other, with one small exception; Scott Matla telling me how well Primeau had been doing in Laval. It’s become a bit of a running joke that I dislike Primeau. For the record, I don’t dislike him. I have been very critical, and have found him to be overrated by a fan base desperate for good news.

Originally I was very encouraged by his NHL debut. It wasn’t pretty, but he hung in there. He was so young that the fact that he was even there was extremely impressive to me.

Throughout the next couple of years, however, I saw more of the same. He was in constant desperation mode, never reading plays properly, always stretching out his body and creating holes. Most egregiously, almost every excellent save was the result of mistakes made earlier in the play.

Mike Richter (who bears the name of the award Primeau won in the NCAA) once said, “Most fans go wild when they see a goalie make what looks like a great save, but the chances are what they are seeing is a save that was made from being out of position.”

Think of the big glove save he made while up with the team a month ago. During a three-on-two, he misread the pass and wound up stuck on the goal line where he had to make that glove save. If he had seen that the puck was going to the slot rather than his left, it would have been a fairly easy save.

As it stands, it was a really nice save, but I’m just saying he didn’t have to be in that situation.

It’s become common for him to overreact to situations or completely misread them. Remember that goal he let in where he was well outside his net? No one’s saying that goal was his fault, but it would have been nice to see him in the same postal code as the crease.

Also, he reverts to his post play very early. A similar issue caused Frederik Andersen to give up a lot of bad goals while playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Check out this play where Primeau is backing up into a post position while completely giving up the top left area of his net.

At this point, you’re probably asking yourself: ‘Wasn’t this meant to be a positive article?’ Well, just like how horror movies have to make things extra nice at the beginning for juxtaposition (I get a bonus if I include a five-syllable word) I’ve taken a similar approach.

My opinion on what I saw on Thursday night was nothing short of an extraordinary transformation and it was the first time that I’ve had real hope for Primeau since his NHL debut

Take a look at this series of saves as an example:

For the initial shot, it looks like Primeau might be too far to his right as he had to reach to the left to make the save, but the way that he followed up on the first shot was brilliant. At first glance, it looks like he slightly over-pushes because he has to lift his left leg in order to stop his momentum. However, there’s a fine line between an over-push and just needing to reach an area on time. Ideally, a goalie is ahead of the play so they never have to move so fast their momentum carries them beyond where they wanted to be.

That rule goes out the window when talking about rebounds. He reached his position just in time to make a brilliant glove save and then still keep his body in a good place for more follow-up shots.

Speaking of glove saves, take a look at this absolute beauty:

He recognizes that the shooter is a left shot that is to the right of his net, so he peeks around the screen to his right. That’s good, because this means he’s looking in the direction of the shortest path for the puck to the back of the net. What winds up happening is the shooter decides to attempt a tip. It’s hard to tell from this angle, but my guess is had there not been someone to tip the puck to Primeau’s left that shot would have been going wide. But because Primeau put himself into a great position to read the shot, he was able to read that it was going toward his left and the tipping option.

I’ve mentioned before when writing about goalies that I’m not dogmatic in how I want goalies to play. The most important parts to me was how they read through the screen, and then the save.

The steps between those two things are up for a certain amount of debate. In my opinion, his order of operations was impeccable: first his head tracks the puck, then his glove goes to the most likely area of the tip because it’s the fastest, then the body follows the glove to offer insurance because it’s the slowest thing to move.

I’ve been critical of Primeau in the past — I think rightfully so. His performance last game was certainly not a perfect one, but it was such a huge leap forward for him it actually makes me think he could become an NHL starter.