Against the Winnipeg Jets, the Montreal Canadiens leaned on a monstrous showing by Nick Suzuki and Joel Armia to fuel the comeback victory. On Saturday night, it was Jeff Petry’s turn, and despite a 24-game goalless drought, the alternate captain stepped up in a massive way.
We’ll get the obvious thing out of the way first: Cole Caufield scored the overtime winner, but without the brilliant work to get the puck to him it could be a different story.
Petry brings the puck out of the zone, recognizing the unit defending them has been out there on a long shift. By resetting through the neutral zone and attacking with speed he has Brady Tkachuk trying to defend on tired legs, while Tim Stützle has lost Caufield entirely.
As Petry exploits the space around Tkachuk, he has time to flick the puck across the goal to Caufield instead of trying to fling a shot on net. As our old friend Marc Dumont put it on Twitter, it’s a high-IQ play from Petry.
An absolutely mammoth game from Jeff Petry, capped off by this set up to Caufield. pic.twitter.com/w0NuzKXK3M— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 2, 2021
This sort of finesse play is something the Canadiens had been lacking from a majority of their players during their slump in March and April. Normally there would be some shifts for Shea Weber in overtime, but the Habs opted to give Petry another quick shift, and his read on the game-winner is one we haven’t seen much of from Weber this season.
What makes the game-winner funny in retrospect, is it’s arguably the second-best play Petry made in the game. His goal that sparked the Canadiens’ comeback was absolutely ice cold, and showed off the high level vision that Petry can play with when he’s clicking.
The play starts with Tyler Toffoli dishing the puck to the centre of the ice for Petry to grab it and gain speed through the neutral zone. Petry flies into the offensive zone, and this is where things get truly fun. Both Artem Zub and Erik Brännström can take Petry, but the pressure falls to Brännström, who is attempting to split the gap between Petry and Toffoli.
Petry stares directly at Toffoli as he glides into the slot, so convincingly that Brännström is sure that a pass is coming to the Habs winger and he breaks away from the puck-carrier. Petry toe-drags back to the slot, reloads, and then rips the shot into the back of the net.
Some say Erik Brannstrom is still waiting for Petry to pass it to this very day pic.twitter.com/xGBxwbxCpS— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 2, 2021
Far too often in recent weeks we’ve seen the Canadiens force plays, or not trust their instincts in crucial situations. On Saturday, Petry was on a higher plane than we’ve seen from any other Montreal defender this year, and his two points highlight that. When Montreal is having a player like him find his game like this, the entire teams plays looser, and with the finesse that they had so much success with earlier in the season.
There’s still plenty of challenges left ahead, but with Jeff Petry hitting his stride once more the Canadiens are much better equipped to deal with them in every situation.