When it was announced that Shea Weber would be shut down for the time being, it was a massive blow to the Montreal Canadiens, who have struggled for a large part of the season thus far. Fortunately for head coach Claude Julien, there is someone who can hold down the fort in the meantime.
Montreal’s New No. 1 Defenceman
Defenceman Jeff Petry has been stable and reliable for the Canadiens since arriving in Montreal on Mar. 2, 2015, when he was dealt from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a 2015 second-round pick and a conditional fifth-round pick at the trade deadline. On Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks, without Weber, Petry logged 25:20 minutes of ice time, registered a power-play goal and an assist, had three shots on goal, and added two hits and two blocks. Overall, it was a strong game for the 30-year-old, who is now listed as the team’s No. 1 defenceman until Weber’s return, and his performance did not go unnoticed.
“He was good [against the Canucks]. He got a lot of ice time in all the important situations,” said Julien. “The fact that he shot the puck with purpose on the power-play was something we want to see more from him.”
Replacing a player of Weber’s caliber is no small task, but Petry is as qualified as anyone on the Canadiens’ blue-line to do so. During Weber’s seven-game absence due to a foot injury from Nov. 21 to Dec. 5, the Canadiens went 6-0-1. Petry, the man in charge of joining the first defensive pairing alongside Jordie Benn, did not look out of place, scoring one goal and adding five assists while averaging over 25 minutes of ice time in five of the seven games.
Having a Next Man Up Mentality
While it remains unknown how long Weber will be away from the team, it has been an injury he has dealt with since game one of the regular season against the Buffalo Sabres. After playing through the nagging pain in his foot for as long as he did, it would be surprising to see him return to the lineup any time before the new year, meaning Petry will continue to be counted on heavily for the foreseeable future.
“I thought [Petry] played some of his best hockey when Shea was out,” said Julien. “He showed his ability to be a good player.”
Even though the coaching staff is clearly confident in Petry’s ability to do what is being asked of him, the Canadiens brought in reinforcements on Wednesday, calling up defenceman Brett Lernout from the Laval Rocket. Lernout joined the team in Calgary on Thursday before Friday’s matchup against the Flames.
The likes of Benn and Karl Alzner will also be asked to contribute a little more than usual. Knowing the impact and presence that Weber has in the Canadiens’ dressing room, the defence group will need to rely on each other while he is injured.
“We want to see another level of desperation,” said Alzner on Tuesday following a back-and-forth 7-5 win against the Canucks. “We know that we can be really good. We’ve proven it at times, and we’ve also proven that we can have really bad games. I think that having that desperation from the beginning of the game will be good for the team.”
It remains to be seen how the Canadiens will fare without their all-star defenceman for the next little while. A repeat performance of when Weber was first forced out of action will be needed if Montreal hopes to stay in playoff contention. With back-to-back games versus the Flames on Friday and the Oilers on Saturday before the Christmas holiday, they will have their hands full until Weber is ready to return, and Petry and the rest of the D-corps will have to be at the top of their game.
“It’s an opportunity for those guys to show what they can do.” Said Julien. “I think they have to look at it as an opportunity and take advantage of it.”
I cover the Montreal Canadiens and Laval Rocket for The Hockey Writers. I am currently a student at the University of Concordia studying journalism in the hopes of one day becoming a full-time sports reporter. I have previously covered the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League for Pro Football Spot.