With two days to practice and better learn Pittsburgh’s system, Jason Zucker hopes to make a bigger contribution to his new team Friday night when the Penguins host the reeling Montreal Canadiens at PPG Paints Arena. The Penguins are -175 on the moneyline Friday against the Canadiens.
Canadiens vs Penguins odds
|Date||Friday, Feb. 14|
|Time||7 p.m. ET|
|How to watch Canadiens vs Penguins||ESPN+|
|Canadiens vs Penguins odds – moneyline||Penguins -175, Canadiens +150|
|Canadiens vs Penguins odds – total goals||over/under 6|
Imagine you’re Jason Zucker.
You wake up one morning in the middle of the eighth season of a good NHL career with the Minnesota Wild.
And 24 hours later, you’re skating as Sidney Crosby’s wingman in Pittsburgh, fresh off a trade where the Penguins acquired you for Alex Galchenyuk, Calen Addison and a conditional first-round pick in 2020. Talk about your shift changes.
“It was obviously a bittersweet moment with my whole family and roots being in Minnesota,” Zucker said to the Penguins’ website before practice on Thursday.
“But I was very excited for my opportunity to be on a special team like this. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity.”
Zucker wasn’t thrilled with his first Pittsburgh game Tuesday night. Playing 15:26 in a 2-1 overtime loss to Tampa Bay, Zucker didn’t register a point, but did squeeze off five shots to tie for the team lead. And just one minute of his ice time occurred on the power play.Coach Mike Sullivan seems inclined for now to keep Zucker paired with Crosby and right winger Dominik Simon, a great way to initiate a newcomer.
During Mario Lemieux’s prime, it seemed like the mere act of breathing was enough to cinch a 40-goal season for one of his linemates, and Crosby has much the same affect on his wings.
Zucker, who’s on pace for his fifth 20-goal campaign in the last six, doesn’t exactly hate the thought of having No. 87 to his right.
“It was great,” Zucker said of skating with Crosby. “The type of player he is goes without saying. He’s an unbelievable player and he’s an unbelievable, humble guy on the bench just talking through some things and trying to play the game.“
(Tuesday night) was a bit of a whirlwind, so I was just trying to play the game and help out any way I could. I think it will be better next game.”
Some speculated that this might be the season the Penguins might have to fight to earn a playoff bid. Instead, they are 34-15-6 and just three points behind the suddenly skidding Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division. A division title and home-ice advantage for the Eastern Conference playoffs are still in play.
The addition of Zucker gives Pittsburgh another gifted top six forward to go with the likes of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist. It also lessens the recent blow of losing Jake Guentzel (left shoulder) for the season. He scored more than a point per game in the first 39 matches.
While the Penguins are again girding for a long playoff run, Montreal (27-25-7) is more likely to play the seller’s or spoiler’s role down the stretch, barring an unlikely hot spell in the final 23 games. A franchise once known as the sport’s standard-bearer continues to slide further towards irrelevancy.
Coach Claude Julien was reduced to praising their effort during a 4-1 loss in Boston Wednesday night.
“You need a bit more to win games,” he said. “Their best players made the difference. I know we hit some posts. But we were too focused on making the perfect play instead of shooting the puck on net.”
Julien has probably the toughest job of any pro sports coach in North America. Even more difficult than managing the New York Yankees or guiding Notre Dame football. When you are going through a tough time with the Canadiens, you have to explain your losses in two languages.
First in French, then in English, and the Montreal media is not what one would call soft.
It can be as demanding as the fan base. This is likely to be the franchise’s 27th straight year without raising a Cup banner to the rafters. And it might be that knowledge which had forward Brendan Gallagher so frustrated about the loss in Boston.
“It’s just so critical that we need those two points,” he said. “The fact that we weren’t able to generate all that much, for whatever reason … obviously they played well, you give them credit. But for us right now, it’s just disappointing in the sense where we’re the desperate team. We need to find a way to collect points.”
That will be more difficult for the season’s remainder if No. 1 defenseman Shea Weber (ankle) can’t come back. He’s expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks after surgery. A timetable which might now allow him to return until late March.
Without Weber and with a middle-of-the-road offense, the Canadiens don’t appear to inspire much confidence in those laying a wager. The Penguins minus 1 ½ goals, and playing the under of six goals, seems to be the way to go on this one.
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