When the dust finally settled from Saturday night’s thrilling 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was Jeff Petry standing tall as the hero. But while he grabbed the rightful spotlight, his partner was also fantastic. The duo of Petry and Brett Kulak were visible for all the right reasons at both ends of the ice, and their play was a driving force behind the stunning win in Toronto.
At even strength the two were both in the top four for time on ice, with Jeff Petry leading in that category, and in terms of possession metrics they again led everyone on the Montreal Canadiens roster. In terms of Corsi-for percentage (CF%), Kulak led all skaters at 59.1%, while Petry was right behind him at 58.3%.
While those numbers are impressive, when you take into account the fact the duo spent most of the night against Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh’s top defensive pair, it’s even more impressive. When matched against Crosby and his linemates, or Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, the duo of Petry and Kulak came out ahead in just about every single statistical category.
It wass the kind of performance that wins playoff series, and it was a great showing for both players. It’s not limited to just their stats in the game, but all the little things they did over the course of the game that stand out. Obviously Petry scored the game-winning goal, but when watching closely it was Kulak making a large number of smart plays to benefit the Habs. Along the boards and on defence, Kulak did well to force plays to the outside and smother puck-carriers when he closed them into the boards. While Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot were noticeable in their physical efforts around the net, the Petry-Kulak duo brought that same intensity to tying up Penguins attackers and keeping them from getting any momentum started. In the offensive zone both Petry and Kulak did well to jump up and keep plays alive, often creating chances for themselves as they worked in from the blue line.
Their ability to skate the puck out of their own end and create the breakout on their own is a huge benefit to the Montreal attack, especially when considering how often both players jump up to join the play. In today’s NHL, having a player who can smother an attack at one end, then join the attack to create chances of their own, is a huge key, and one that both JPetry and Kulak thrive on.
The Canadiens pulled off a stunner in Game 1. To do the same going forward they’ll need more of the same from their second duo.