Since he was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers, Jeff Petry has filled a major role for the Montreal Canadiens. For too long the team lacked defenders who could shoulder the load defensively if the top pairing struggled. With Andrei Markov and Shea Weber getting older, and Alexei Emelin performing inconsistently since signing his most recent contract extension, Petry has been a stable force on the back end, giving the team a solid top three.
Despite an injury-shortened 2015-16, Petry came into this season in top form, and overcame a rotating cast of defence partners to be in the conversation for the Habs’ best defenceman. He doesn’t possess the slick passing of Markov, or the ridiculous slapshot of Weber, but overall Petry offers the most well-balanced game on the Canadiens’ blue line.
He’s not known for his offensive prowess, but Petry still contributed a career-high eight goals and 20 assists in 80 games this year, adding another goal in the post-season.
Getting that sort of contribution from a blue-liner (to go with even greater production from Weber and Markov) is never a bad thing, and with his puck-moving abilities Petry will likely be a big part of Claude Julien’s system next year. Petry can easily headman a rush or jump up on a pinch to create scoring chances, something the Habs could use a lot more of in the lineup, as opposed to stationary shooters on the back end.
Petry started off the year alongside Markov, and for the first 31 games they dominated on ice. When they played as a pairing this year they clocked in at an outstanding 56.1 Corsi-for percentage; the highest mark for any Habs pairing that played over 100 even-strength minutes together. When Markov returned from injury and stepped onto the first pairing alongside Weber, his possession numbers immediately dropped to a more pedestrian level.
Every defender who played with Petry for a significant portion of the year saw an immediate boost in terms of their possession numbers. This gave head coach Michel Therrien, and later Claude Julien, the luxury of playing matchmaker and not having to worry about who would be on the second pairing night in and night out.
Things were not always rosy, despite the outstanding performance on the season as a whole. There is an obvious dip in his play starting in late February and that happened to coincide with Alexei Emelin dropping off the top pairing and onto the second duo. When paired together those two barely broke even, at a 50.6% shot-attempts-for percentage. When Petry was away from Emelin he clocked in at an outstanding 55.2%.
This is where an issue arises among the defence corps. Petry can handle playing with Markov, Nathan Beaulieu, and Brandon Davidson. It is highly likely that Markov if he re-signs will resume his place alongside Weber on the top pairing. But at this point, it’s clear that they would be wasting Petry’s talents by saddling him with Emelin once again. If Julien decides to trust his younger players in Beaulieu, Davidson, newcomer Jakub Jerabek, or possibly even rookie Mikhail Sergachev, he can create a top four that not only suppresses shots, but drives offence as well; a combination the Habs sorely need in their game.
Marc Bergevin believed Jeff Petry would be a big part of the Canadiens’ core moving forward when he signed him to a six-year deal in 2015. Since he’s come over not only has he met expectations, he’s exceeded them in a system that, until this season, wasn’t particularly good. Now with a new coach at the helm, there’s a chance for Petry to take another step forward and become a standout on this Montreal team.
It’s not easy to find top-four defencemen, that can limit shots against, transition play to the other end of the ice, and contrbute on the scoresheet once they get there, but the Habs have just that in Petry.
While Shea Weber grabs the attention for his offensive prowess, it’s Jeff Petry who has arguably become the Habs’ best player on defence. It’s not likely to be a popular notion, because he isn’t flashy or overly physical, but night in and night out Petry is the stable presence on the Canadiens’ blue line.
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