BROSSARD - The Bell Centre faithful will be treated to a pair of NHL debuts on Thursday night.
Cayden Primeau gets the start in goal for the Canadiens, while defenseman Otto Leskinen will also be in uniform against the Colorado Avalanche.
Why is Primeau getting the start over Carey Price against one of the hottest teams in the League?
According to head coach Claude Julien, it all comes down to Jared Bednar's squad being a Western Conference opponent.
"He was going to play one of the two games [in the back-to-back set this week]. At the end of the day, the team we're playing [on Friday night at Madison Square Garden] is in our conference. Whether it's division or wild card, there's a chance we'll be battling with that team down the road, so it's an important win for us tomorrow [against the Rangers]," explained Julien. "We just felt that was the best scenario."
Winning against the Avalanche is equally important, of course, and Julien is confident the 20-year-old American netminder can deliver the goods.
The veteran bench boss met with Primeau at the Bell Sports Complex and shared a message of encouragement.
"I talked to him early this morning. Now I'm going to leave him alone. It's up to him to do his preparation and be ready to play tonight," said Julien. "My message to him is - 'Be true to yourself. Play with confidence. Do what you've done to get here, and if you do that, you're going to give us a good chance of winning a hockey game.'"
Primeau's numbers thus far this season with the AHL's Laval Rocket have been rather strong.
The Northeastern University product posted a 7-4-1 record in 12 starts, along with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. He also has one shutout.
From what he's seen of Primeau in practice this week, Julien appreciates the way he goes about his work.
"He's just calm. He's square. A lot of goalies that you like just seem to be in the right position I'd say most of the time, and he's one of those guys that just seems to be square and in the right position," praised Julien. "He makes the right saves, and he doesn't look like a guy who's scrambling to get back in position. That's served him well to date."
Video: Cayden Primeau on adapting from NCAA to AHL
The fact that Primeau doesn't have any previous NHL experience isn't going to change the way Julien instructs his players to play in front of him.
It'll essentially be business as usual across the board.
"He's played well enough to earn his opportunity to come here. I don't think we're playing on our heels because we've got a young goaltender here," indicated Julien. "If anything, you'll want to give him his first win, so we've just got to play well. Doing our own jobs and doing it well will serve him much better than trying to back in and trying to do too much to help him out. He's capable of stopping pucks."
Defenseman Ben Chiarot affirmed that Primeau will be well-supported versus Colorado.
"It doesn't matter who's in net for us. You have to play the same way - play a good, structured game," said Chiarot. "When it's a guy playing his first game, just make him feel comfortable, don't give up any chances that are too tough for him early on, just let him get comfortable early in the game and he'll be fine."
You'll recall that the Canadiens selected Primeau in the seventh round, 199th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft.
He will become the 37th seventh-round goaltender to play an NHL game, and the second seventh-rounder to make his NHL debut with the Canadiens since Richard Sevigny in 1979.
Primeau's parents, Keith and Lisa, will be in the house, along with his sister, Kylie.
Welcome aboard, Otto!
Like Primeau, Leskinen has enjoyed a strong start to his AHL career.
The 22-year-old Finn registered one goal and 12 points in 24 games with Laval before the big club came calling.
"It's going to be a huge challenge for me, but I'll just try and do my best," said Leskinen, who signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Canadiens in May. "I don't know if 'surprise' is the right word, but it's nice to be here now."
Video: Otto Leskinen on his NHL debut
The Finnish Elite League grad's mindset heading into his first NHL outing shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
"I'll try not to think too much, just play my game and be myself," mentioned Leskinen. "Of course it's going to be a good challenge."