There is a lot going wrong with the Montreal Canadiens this season, more than one could possibly discuss in a single article. But perhaps one of the biggest reasons for this Habs’ current struggles is the inexplicable form of Jeff Petry.
As it stands right now, Petry has just two assists this season, and is on pace for easily his worst full NHL season in his career. Perhaps worse than the offence is that Petry’s reading of the play in both the defensive and offensive zones has evaporated, and he now looks lost on the ice.
His general possession numbers still look fine; he is second on the team in terms of five-on-five Corsi-for percentage at 52.48%. With him on the ice, the team generates more shots than it gives up. He’s also above the break-even point in expected-goals-for percentage, on the ice for more scoring chances for than against.
Despite all of that, everything involving Petry on the ice this season just isn’t working.
Let’s take a look at Petry’s performance last year, which by all accounts was incredibly successful as he tallied 12 goals and 30 assists for the Habs in a shortended season and was a crucial piece of their run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Petry was roughly better than 84% of other NHLers — a standard deviation (presented above as Z-score) better than the mean — in many categories, and even better than that in attempts at five-on-five and goal on the power play. He was a very solid all-around NHL defenceman, and an elite power play goal-generator when he was on the ice.
Of course, Shea Weber was on the team last year and helped to eat up some of those bigger minutes, but the two shared duties in a tandem situation and on many night Petry played more. He’d proven in the past he was more than capable as a top-pairing blue-liner
This season, however, tells a different story.
When it comes to charts like these, more red is a bad thing, and Petry’s numbers have gone in the opposite direction from last season — worse than 84% of players in a couple of critical metrics. He is an active hindrance for his team defensively, and his production is almost nonexistent.
So, where is the real Jeff Petry?
Notably, he’s missing his partner from last season, Joel Edmundson, who served as a stable presence defensively. When Petry laid the puck off, he knew he was going to get it back from Edmundson, which allowed him to confidently execute his preferred playing style. This year the defensive pairs have shuffled on a near weekly basis, and Petry’s most common partner, Ben Chiarot, isn’t exactly the most reliable of options in terms of decision-making with the puck. This also gets compounded by the forward lines not working in sync, on any given night it’s rare to see more than one line find any sort of momentum. Without lines doing much to help and defensive partnerships that don’t totally work, it’s a mess for everyone to navigate.
Petry is second-guessing almost every single play he makes. It’s very easy to see in his play right now: passes aren’t where they should be, his play with the puck looks almost lackadaisical, and just in general he’s not making plays that he was making in his sleep beforehand. He is, by his own admission, not playing at 100%, and has been managing some lingering issues after a very long post-season run last year.
At this point in the season, if Petry isn’t healthy, the coaches shouldn’t be playing him. as it risks whatever is ailing him getting worse. Given the massive long-term investment they made in him with a contract extension, it’s extremely unwise to damage your most important defender.
The Canadiens were always going to lean heavily on him this season, and like the Avatar, he’s vanished when they needed him most. It’s not beyond repair, because 40-plus-point defencemen don’t just fall off a cliff this steeply a few months after some of their best hockey. At least for now, though, the Canadiens’ top defender is playing like anything but, and that’s a huge problem in a sea of problems for the club.
Jeff Petry can be better than this. He knows it, coaches know it, and fans know it. That is part of what makes this all frustrating. It’s already a bad season, and seeing star players struggle this badly just drags morale down. There’s time to get Petry sorted out, even as the season slowly circles the drain, and it might be better to give him time to get things corrected instead of forcing him to blindly play through this career-wosrt slump.