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Jeff Petry played a vital role for the Canadiens

After Shea Weber’s return, the two defencemen complemented each other perfectly.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Jeff Petry filled in for Shea Weber admirably for the first 24 games of the season before he made his season debut. But when Weber returned, it allowed Claude Julien to settle in to a setup that made both players, and by extension the team, better.

By the end of the season, Petry ended up playing more minutes at even strength, and while that may seem surprising, it was really by design. The Canadiens’ captain would take time on the power play, and penalty kill while mostly playing against the oppositions top players.

Petry would play less on special teams but mostly defend against the other team’s middle six allowing his offence to shine, and being trusted enough to allow Julien the leeway to spread around ice time.

There’s a lot of ink spilled about the lack of a solid left side defenceman for the Canadiens, but I’d argue with the two players on the right side complementing each other, they are good enough to make up for it. And it provides Julien with a lot of options.

When you look at the overall numbers after Weber returned, both played well. In the 58 games after the injury, Petry ended up with 25 more seconds per game at even strength (17:36 vs 17:11). But the numbers when they were on the ice were impressive.

CF = Corsi For | GF% = Goals For | HDCF% = High Danger Chances For

Petry and Weber had similar numbers with the Michigan native starting more in the offensive zone. It should be noted that Weber’s role had him play most often with Phillip Danault, and we’ve already talked about how good that line was.

Later in the season, Julien started using Petry (who had formed a solid partnership with Brett Kulak) more often, with a third pairing of Christian Folin and Jordie Benn which was more or less a mainstay for the final 20 games of the season. In those final 20 games, Petry’s ice time rose to over 19 minutes a game at even strength, while Weber’s was the same (17:09). And the result was both of their numbers improving, despite both starting more in the defensive zone than the offensive zone.

CF = Corsi For | GF% = Goals For | HDCF% = High Danger Chances For

Petry gets a lot of criticism because people don’t see him as a number one defenceman replacing the team’s captain, but the fact is that both players are essentially co-number-one defencemen and the dangerous aspect for the Canadiens is that they don’t even play together.

It means that for most of the time the game is even strength, opponents will have to deal with one of the two on the right side. Leaving a few minutes for a third pairing which is much better than it has been in recent years.

If Weber is essential for the former Oiler raising his game, the reverse is just as true. Nobody on the Canadiens can take the minutes that Petry has and play as well, leaving Weber to keep his minutes at a manageable level.

Petry has established himself for a few seasons as a top NHL defenceman but this year the role changed to something more defined that you could put your finger on. The Canadiens, now entering the third full season of Claude Julien and second year with the overhauled coaching staff, are starting to get defined roles and allowing players to play to their strengths.

Montreal will be adding some youth to the defence in the coming years, and while Ben Chiarot may spend the pre-season learning to play on the left side of the Canadiens’ #26, players like Noah Juulsen, Josh Brook, and Cale Fleury will be around. And having two veterans to show players the ropes as they adjust to professional hockey and even the NHL is a huge boost.

After coming over from the Oilers and then signing an extension, he has reached a level he didn’t reach before. With more defined responsibilities, and an added opportunity to be a mentor, his value to the Canadiens will only continue.

All statistics from NaturalStatTrick.com