Two things have been made perfectly clear in each of the Montreal Canadiens’ two postseason games against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
First, when well-rested, goalie Carey Price can still impact outcomes like just about anybody else in this league. Second, the Canadiens’ defense hinges on Jeff Petry… at both ends of the ice.
Petry and Kulak Excel in Game 1
At least in Game 1, Petry and partner Brett Kulak successfully kept Sidney Crosby in check. Granted, that’s excluding the goal the Penguins captain scored on a delayed penalty call, for which neither of the two were even on the ice.
Regardless, despite playing a fair bit against the Pens’ top line, Petry’s pairing dominated possession, with Kulak even leading all skaters in terms of Corsi-for (59.1%; Petry 58.3%). Add in Petry’s overtime-winning goal and there’s little guessing who the second star of the game should have been behind Price.
Of course, Petry actually got official first-star honors (and Price second). It makes one wonder whether or not the selection committee had been watching the same first period, in which Price kept the Habs in a game that would likely not have otherwise even made it to overtime, setting the stage for Petry’s eventual heroics.
Petry Disappoints in Game 2
In all fairness, Petry played a critical role in each of the Penguins’ first two goals in Game 2. He converged on Conor Sheary on the first, allowing Crosby to walk right in on Price for the relatively easy opening score on a pass from Jake Guentzel. He also played Sheary on the 2-on-1 insurance tally in the third, failing to take away the pass to Jason Zucker, who made no mistake tipping it in Price’s net.
Maybe it doesn’t take away all the bad will Petry accumulated on those two plays, but he did successfully keep the puck in the offensive zone soon thereafter as the Habs were pushing. Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s subsequent second goal of the series put the Habs on the board, with Petry earning an assist on the play.
You may not have had Kotkaniemi as the Habs’ leading scorer after two games, but Petry, who is tied with him with two points apiece, wouldn’t have been a bad bet. It goes to show Petry dictates the play at both ends of the ice to a much greater extent than people think. So, he could have had a better game. He’s still one of the Canadiens’ “best players” (from ‘In the Habs’ Room: ‘Our best players weren’t our best players tonight,’ Julien says,’ Montreal Gazette, Aug. 4 2020).
That Petry was on the ice for all four goals in the game, including Guentzel’s empty-netter shouldn’t be a surprise. Not even that he was for all intents and purposes caught pinching on the game-winning goal, because the situation, in which the Habs were trailing late in the third, called for him to be in that position. He’s relied on to that degree by head coach Claude Julien and he should continue to be arguably beyond next season, after which he’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent.
Bergevin’s Best Trade Deadline Move
Everyone should know by now that general manager Marc Bergevin failed to trade Petry at the deadline, with the Habs being sellers. There had been speculation Bergevin would pull the trigger on a move despite the extra year Petry has under contract. Considering the Habs’ ended up making the postseason, the decision not to trade Petry ended up being one of Bergevin’s best overall, right up there with the move to acquire him in the first place, back in 2015 for second and fourth-round picks.
The Oilers may have gotten upstart defenseman Caleb Jones out of it, but the Habs arguably got an eventual co-No. 1 alongside Shea Weber. It should be fairly evident by now, Petry largely plays behind him in the lineup only because they’re both right-handed shots… and putting the Habs’ two best defensemen on the top pairing would give them just the one when they need three.
Reportedly, there haven’t been negotiations between Petry and the Canadiens, with the two sides waiting until the offseason to examine the situation. That’s understandable to a certain degree, because Petry effectively went from having one foot out the door at the trade deadline, playing for a lottery team, to helping to anchor the blue line on a Stanley Cup contender. There may have been four and a half months in between, but, in retrospect, with everything up in the air for the longest time, it seemed so sudden.
Maybe the “Stanley Cup contender” bit is laying it on a bit thick, but there’s no good reason Petry shouldn’t be on one in three or so years. Other than that reason being gross mismanagement on the part of Bergevin, it could realistically be the Canadiens. While re-signing a 33-year-old defenseman is a risky proposition, the fact of the matter is this is a team with a No. 1 center (Phillip Danault) who would arguably be a No. 3 on an elite team. Petry on the other hand? He’d be right where he is now.
Having only gotten more productive with age, Petry should be the Habs’ answer to Weber’s inevitable decline, the bridge between him and the likes of Cale Fleury and Josh Brook on the right side. As great as those prospects seem to be, their upsides are slightly lacking, at least compared to what Weber and Petry bring to the table. Keep in mind, Bergevin’s approaching the end of his theoretical second five-year plan on the job in 2022, with the Habs on the verge of potentially missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. It only reinforces why Bergevin should see no other option but to keep Petry in the fold, because, if not him, who? Price can’t do it all.