Down a goal in the second period, the Montreal Canadiens were faced with Sidney Crosby charging into the offensive zone with the puck. Their on-the-fly defensive strategy was to eliminate the shooting options for arguably the best player in the NHL. Nick Suzuki was chasing Crosby, using his stick to try to prevent a move to the middle of the ice, while Ben Chiarot gave up his position in the slot to try to front the Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain. Unfortunately, the other forward on the rush was one-time 30-goal-scorer Jason Zucker, playing his second game with the team, and he was able to capitalize on the open space he was granted.
After the Habs clawed one back a minute later, it was Zucker once again — with Crosby adding another assist — who scored a back-breaking goal to undo what Montreal had been trying to achieve all game long.
The addition of Zucker made what was already one of the league’s top teams even more dangerous, and the situation won’t be unique to just that one club with the NHL Trade Deadline on the horizon. All the top teams will be trying to add star players that the salary cap wouldn’t have allowed for at the beginning of the year. Even those just hoping to sneak into the playoffs will be aiming to fill a hole or two in their roster construction.
It’s an activity Marc Bergevin is on record saying he won’t be participating in. He let his team and the fanbase know that he isn’t going to dip into the strong prospect pool he and the scouting staff have been building over the past three years in an effort to make the post-season. Reading between the lines, it was clear that he doesn’t believe the club is a true contender and therefore he isn’t going to waste resources on a renovation.
It’s the proper course of action given what the group has achieved this season, but it also set the team up for situations like the one it experienced last night; ones that will be repeated over the final quarter of the season. The Canadiens weren’t just going to have to catch teams with makeups that had proven superior to their own through the majority of the season, but deal with those teams improving even further while they’re committed to staying pat.
It was going to be a tough task to overcome two long losing streaks to make the post-season, but the degree of difficulty was always going to increase at this point of the season, The Habs are now beginning to see those deadline plans realized.