By opening the scoring in last night’s game versus the Philadelphia Flyers, Jeff Petry set a new career high of nine goals, beating the mark of eight he set last year. He also equalled his greatest offensive output of 28 points from 2016-17. He has 23 more games to build upon those totals.
His goal was another case of him not shying away from getting involved deep in the offensive zone. He followed up the play, attempting to move into open coverage against a team not expecting him to do so. When the pass never came to him, he recognized an opportunity for a shot from the point, and got his body in goaltender Alex Lyon’s line of sight. He was standing in the slot acting as another forward as Karl Alzner fired a shot toward the net, and was able to deflect it in from just a few feet outside the crease.
Petry was also jumping up from his standard position while on the defensive side of the puck. attempting to cut off the shooting lane of a forward in his vicinity. That strategy wasn’t nearly as fruitful, as the Flyers were able to get the puck around him and create a great chance to score on a few occasions with little resistance in front of Carey Price.
That aggressive approach isn’t something unique to Petry, however. Alzner uses it as often as anyone, and it appears to be the preferred strategy on the penalty kill.
After 59 games, with the Canadiens sporting the eighth-highest goals-against total, and seeing only six teams with a lower penalty-kill efficiency, it’s clear that that strategy isn’t working. Playing a mostly zone structure in the defensive zone, one person jumping up to cover an opponent simply opens a hole near the net, leaving the other defender (should he not have tried the same thing) scrambling to react to a sudden odd-man situation.
The fact that the team has gone about three-quarters of the season without being able to recognize the failings of their defensive tactics has to be a concern. You could shrug off the lapses as a team adjusting to a new system at the beginning of the year, but not after Game 59 in late February. The truth is that the coaches has been unable to alter the structure of the defensive-zone coverage.
Petry is just one of the players unable to make the strategy work, and the staff doesn’t appear to have tried to fix it.