The Montreal Canadiens held a training camp in September that was both too close to the end of their previous season and also way too long.
There were not many spots up for grabs on the roster, because the team was actually healthy there for a while. They had a dozen returning NHL forwards and their seven defenders were pretty much picked before camp even began.
There really wasn’t a lot of intrigue but they still had to play six exhibition games as we just tried to figure out whether or not Ryan Poehling would make the team as the fourth line centre or would Cedric Paquette start there?
There were two surprising good stories come out of the lengthy camp though. First, Arber Xhekaj came out of nowhere, literally because he didn’t play hockey last season, to put his name on the organizational depth chart map. He is having a terrific season in the OHL after turning a rookie camp invitation into an NHL contract with the Canadiens in the fall.
The other good story was Michael Pezzetta. He was a depth piece on the Laval Rocket last season scoring just two goals and five points in 20 games. In his last year of Junior, Pezzetta scored 52 points in 62 games in the OHL, but he is mostly known for his gritty, hard working play and not his scoring.
Though he started the season with the Laval Rocket after an impressive training camp, Pezzetta was one of the first players called up when the Habs initially ran into a few injuries. He played hard every shift, but went a little over the top a couple of times early in his NHL tenure, earning him a few extra penalties that the Canadiens didn’t really need.
He has since learned to tame his game down just enough that he is still physical and a pain to play against, but he stays out of the penalty box. He also got involved in the offence.
In the second period, the Canadiens were trailing the Bruins 4-0 when Pezzetta came rumbling in on the forecheck. He laid a heavy hit on defenceman John Moore and next thing the Bruins knew, Nick Suzuki was cutting to the front of the net with the puck for a great scoring chance. It didn’t go in, but the Habs maintained possession and Pezzetta would gather a rebound and fire it past Linus Ullmark on the short side.
Just a minute later, Pezzetta would crawl a little further under the Bruins skin as he hammered defenceman Matt Grzelcyk with a legal hit behind the Bruins goal. This drew the ire of Patrice Bergeron who grabbed Pezzetta by the face and wrestled him to the ground. Pezzetta was wise enough not to retaliate and just took the power play.
The Canadiens are down by three at that point in the game, but a power play with eight minutes left in the second period gave them an opportunity to make it a close game once again. Pezzetta very nearly got the Canadiens a 5 on 3 advantage as he was on the ice for the power play and nearly convinced Brandon Carlo to take a penalty as well.
There has not been a ton of great news stories coming out of the Montreal Canadiens 2021-22 season. Michael Pezzetta earning a promotion and battling on every single shift has been fun to watch.