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With Shea Weber out, can Jeff Petry take the reins again?

The Michigan native has been a rock for Montreal since being acquired, and he’ll need to step up again in Weber’s absence

Montreal Canadiens v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Shea Weber’s long-term injury is a massive blow to the already thin Canadiens defensive unit, but as bad as the situation is, there’s a ready-made solution already available. That solution comes in the form of Jeff Petry, who will almost assuredly take over the reins from Weber as the Canadiens top defencemen this season while the latter recovers from knee surgery.

This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Petry, who played in all 82 games last year with the majority of them as the leader in ice time after Weber was sidelined with his foot injury. While losing Weber hurts, having Petry step into his role is at worst a lateral move given how well he’s performed since coming to Montreal from the Edmonton Oilers. He smashed his previous bests for both goals and assists en route to his best season on the scoresheet in his career where he had 42 points (his previous high was 28 in 80 games the previous year).

Not only did Petry slide into that top role, he did so with absolute aplomb given the circumstances and in most metrics was the Canadiens’ best player on defence at 5v5. The only player who regularly outranked Petry was Weber who, at the same time, only played 26 games and was almost exclusively paired with Victor Mete, whereas Petry was saddled with Karl Alzner. In spite of that, Petry still managed to more than pull his weight while playing heavy minutes at even strength, manning the point on the power play and leading the penalty kill.

Canadiens 2017-18 Defence - 5v5

Player GP TOI CF% SF% GF% SCF% HDCF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO OZS%
Player GP TOI CF% SF% GF% SCF% HDCF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO OZS%
Jeff Petry 82 1429.1 52.0 51.8 44.2 52.4 55.2 6.89 90.63 0.975 47.8
Karl Alzner 82 1379.2 50.4 50.1 44.9 50.6 51.7 6.44 92.06 0.985 47.3
Jordie Benn 77 1259.5 50.3 50.9 42.7 49.4 52.6 4.89 93.21 0.981 48.7
Victor Mete 49 664.5 49.4 53.2 55.2 52.2 61.3 8.94 91.75 1.007 55.2
Joe Morrow 38 591.6 48.8 49.0 38.7 49.7 48.7 3.74 94.31 0.980 57.1
David Schlemko 37 576.7 49.3 50.1 52.4 51.6 59.6 7.83 92.86 1.007 53.2
Shea Weber 26 463.0 54.3 56.3 41.5 53.3 57.5 5.67 89.70 0.954 52.1
Jakub Jerabek 25 408.0 50.5 47.9 44.4 51.5 52.7 5.80 93.33 0.991 51.9
Noah Juulsen 23 363.9 48.3 44.8 47.4 47.2 43.6 5.66 94.90 1.006 48.9
Mike Reilly 19 333.4 46.7 47.5 51.6 47.5 44.3 9.41 92.02 1.014 49.1
Brett Lernout 18 276.6 46.5 44.6 31.3 45.2 42.9 4.20 92.57 0.968 50.6
Natural Stat Trick

What’s most impressive about Petry’s numbers is that he’s creating these offensive chances, and pushing play out of his own zone, while starting the second-lowest percentage of shifts in the offensive zone. Only Alzner (47.28 OZS%) had a harsher deployment than Petry (47.80 OZS%), which makes sense given how much the two were paired together this year.

The chart above shows that Petry ate a lot of defensive zone starts as the year wore on, especially once Weber was shut down for good, and he still thrived offensively at 5v5.

There is some concern that his overall plus/minus means he isn’t trustworthy in his own end of the ice, but given his ability to create chances and limit them, it’s obvious that -30 mark from this past season is misleading. The first major point that should be made, is that it’s almost seemingly impossible to think that Carey Price will repeat his horrid season. Secondly, we can look at his heat maps to see where shots are coming from.

Looking into Petry’s 5v5 shots against, his side of the ice is deep blue meaning he’s effectively neutralizing shots against there. Not only that, but it’s in a dangerous area. The deepest of the blue area is right in the “home-plate” area of the offensive zone, which is where most high-danger scoring chances are created. Further to that, the shots on Petry’s side of the ice are from deep along the boards and the point, which are much lower in danger overall.

If we expand further, the only major area of concern is in the slot towards the left side, which was primarily the home of Alzner and part of what leads to Petry’s less than sterling on-ice ratings overall. It’s something that should be taken into context given how much the two played together. Without Petry, Alzner isn’t able to keep pace in terms of possession in more ways than one.

Jeff Petry/Karl Alzner 17/18 WOWY

Player 1 Player 2 GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Player 1 Player 2 GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Jeff Petry Karl Alzner 82 745.75 738 689 51.72 525 493 51.57 390 355 52.35 26 34 43.33 324 283 53.38 134 108 55.37 18 15 54.55 6.67 90.42 0.971 239 305 258 48.09
Jeff Petry w/o Karl Alzner 82 683.3833333 733 667 52.36 530 492 51.86 379 360 51.29 27 33 45 332 313 51.47 153 125 55.04 22 22 50 7.12 90.83 0.98 185 198 205 47.44
w/o Jeff Petry Karl Alzner 82 633.4666667 561 589 48.78 390 444 46.76 293 325 47.41 18 20 47.37 220 248 47.01 107 117 47.77 10 18 35.71 6.14 93.85 1 178 249 207 46.23
w/o Jeff Petry w/o Karl Alzner 82 1913.916667 1913 1917 49.95 1380 1356 50.44 1013 984 50.73 59 71 45.38 875 850 50.72 374 324 53.58 36 42 46.15 5.82 92.78 0.986 647 700 561 53.56
Natural Stat Trick

In nearly every metric, Alzner struggles mightily when away from Petry. This becomes an issue when his defensive lapses cause goals against, even while being carried to respectability by his partner. At 5v5, Petry played 1429 minutes and of those minutes 745 were paired with Alzner. The next closest defender in terms of time with Petry is Mike Reilly, who played 191 minutes at 5v5.

With Weber out until January, the key is now to find Petry a stable partner, and if last year has taught the coaching staff anything, it cannot be Alzner. The best option may be second-year defender Mete, who only had a very short window of playing with Petry before a hand injury finished off his season. Mete proved his mettle last year alongside Weber, so it’s highly likely that he can easily do so alongside a puck mover of Petry’s caliber.

Mete’s style meshes well with Petry’s when on the ice, as both can carry the puck out of their zone, make a good pass and jump in the play as needed. The Canadiens struggled to create their own chances by carrying the puck out so adding two of their best puck movers on defence to the same pairing could alleviate some of that.

It won’t be flawless, and there will be hiccups, but that’s how this season in Montreal is likely to go. It’s worth the bumps in the road to have Mete learn from an extremely good puck mover like Petry, especially if he’s going to start generating more offence than in his rookie season.

Shea Weber is out for a good chunk of the season once again, and quite frankly, that’s horrible news for the Canadiens. But what it does mean, is that the seemingly underrated Jeff Petry can step back into that top pairing spot and shine much like he did last year. With a new defensive coach and system likely on the way, and hopefully a new defensive partner in Victor Mete, we might see Petry take another step forward. Even if the team is struggling in the standings.