Zucker, Penguins brace for visiting Canadiens

Field Level Media

The Pittsburgh Penguins have the longest active streak of qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs in the NHL. They hope the acquisition of left wing Jason Zucker will help them on their way to their 14th straight season of postseason participation.

Zucker will appear in his second game with the Penguins on Friday when they host the Montreal Canadiens.

Pittsburgh acquired Zucker from the Minnesota Wild on Monday in exchange for former Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk, minor league defenseman Calen Addison and a conditional first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

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Zucker, who had 14 goals and 29 points in 45 games with Minnesota this season, made his Pittsburgh debut on Tuesday in a 2-1 overtime loss to the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning. He logged 15:26 of ice time and registered five shots on goal.

Zucker told reporters afterward that he's still getting used to putting on a different uniform after spending his first 8 1/2 NHL seasons with the Wild.

"It was very weird," Zucker said. "I was looking at my socks and everything getting dressed. It was very bizarre. You know what? It was awesome. This is such an amazing franchise. I've heard nothing but amazing things prior to being here about the entire organization."

He has long impressed Penguins star captain Sidney Crosby, especially with his speed.

"He fits the way we play as a group," Crosby told reporters after the loss to Tampa Bay. "The more he gets comfortable, the better he's going to be."

Zucker should have good memories playing against the Canadiens.

He recorded his first career hat trick against Montreal on Nov. 9, 2017, and had a goal and an assist against the Canadiens earlier this season in a 4-3 victory on Oct. 20 in Saint Paul, Minn.

Montreal made a push to get back in playoff position by winning nine of 12 games before dropping its last two.

"We've taken a lot of punches," Canadiens forward Phillip Danault told reporters after a 4-1 loss at the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. "It's hard, but nobody's going to give up here. We're a hard-working team, we've got a good work ethic, we practice hard, (and) we've got some pride here."

In the highly competitive Eastern Conference, the Canadiens entered Thursday eight points out of the final wild-card spot, with three teams to leapfrog to get in position.

Montreal took the first meeting with Pittsburgh this season, scoring the final four goals of a 4-1 win on the road on Dec. 10. But the Penguins rallied for a 3-2 overtime win in the last meeting, Jan. 4 in Montreal. Canadiens winger Artturi Lehkonen potted two goals in the latter game.

If there's an area the Penguins would like to see improvement, it's on the power play.

Pittsburgh finished in the top five in the league in power-play efficiency the past three seasons, but it resides in the middle of the pack in 2019-20 at 19.9 percent.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said the team is at its best with the man-advantage when it doesn't force plays.

"When we just take what they give us and we shoot the puck, a lot of times, we can create offense off of the spray or the rebound," he said. "I think we'll give ourselves more of an opportunity to create and open up some lanes. We try to encourage (the players) to shoot the puck, especially from the top. If we can establish that point shot from the middle of the ice, a lot of times, that rebound is advantageous."

--Field Level Media

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