Montreal Canadiens forward Michael Pezzetta was the main topic of conversation after Wednesday night’s 5-1 loss to the Boston Bruins. Jeff Petry was asked about his effort. So was head coach Dominique Ducharme.
Pezzetta’s effort is obvious to anyone who has watched the Canadiens over the last few months. While his effort is unquestionable, the fact that that’s the part of his game that sticks out compared to his teammates is a problem. It’s part of the reason the team finds itself at the bottom of the NHL’s standings.
“That’s what I’m here for,” Pezzetta said. “Every shift I have to play 100%. You never know what tomorrow’s going to bring, especially for someone like me. Every day is a tryout for me. I try to go out there and bring 100%. You can’t control some things but I know I can control how hard I work and how much heart I play with and I never want anyone to question that, so for me it’s just to come out and bring that intensity, bring that heart, bring that fire and see what happens from there.”
Pezzetta was then asked by Sportsnet’s Eric Engels what he meant when he said ‘someone like me.’
“I’m a young guy. Obviously I started in the AHL this year and I’m battling to be a part of the Montreal Canadiens every single day. I want to be on this team. I want to be in the NHL. There’s no easy days for me. There’s obviously new guys coming in, guys coming back from injury and I just want to play on this team so I’m trying to do everything I can.”
It’s really easy to read between the lines. Pezzetta noticed that the team added a new forward on Wednesday in former Minnesota Wild forward Rem Pitlick. On top of players returning from injury and COVID protocol, adding new faces means time is running out for players like Pezzetta.
The NHL isn’t quite a meritocracy, and it can be unfair. Due to contracts, waivers, and other factors, players can be sent to the AHL even though they deserve more. It means that the spots up for grabs are a lot less than the spots on the roster. Pezzetta is doing everything he can to claim one of those, and he has to be considered a heavy favourite to do just that.
In the second period, Pezzetta scored a goal, earned a promotion and had regular shifts with Christan Dvorak and Jonathan Drouin, even getting steady time on the power play. As well deserved as it is for Pezzetta, it is damning to the players on the Canadiens who are expected — and being paid — to play those roles.
Pezzetta shouldn’t be the only player treating this as a tryout, and there are other players on the team giving a good effort. But not enough of them are. They should all be trying to prove themselves to Jeff Gorton and whoever the new general manager will be. This is their chance to make a good first impression.
If anyone on the Canadiens is frustrated by the team’s results — and why wouldn’t they be — they only have to look at Pezzetta’s effort and know they have to match it.
On a team missing leaders in Shea Weber and Carey Price, among others, it’s the long-haired rookie with 22 career NHL games leading the way. He says he’s trying to be a part of the Montreal Canadiens. Anyone else who wants to will be best served to match his effort.