When it was announced last season that the Montreal Canadiens would be without defenseman Shea Weber for an extended period of time, it was clear that each player would have to step up in his absence. Responsibility primarily fell to Jeff Petry, who is in his fourth full season with the organization but has never been asked to be a shut-down defenseman. With the injury to Weber, it forced him to be thrust into the role and play more minutes than he usually does. So far, the attention to defense has helped the Canadiens. They are off to a decent start to the season, and Petry has been one of the key contributors. He has shown time and time again how important he is to the organization.
Jeff Petry currently tied for 8th among NHL dmen in scoring. He’s had a great season so far, even if he’s appeared a bit worn at times. Playing 25 min a game and in Weber’s role against top opposition. With Benn, Alzner and Reilly as partners.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) November 18, 2018
The Michigan native plays every facet of the game effectively, and this season he has hit a career high in ice time. He has 15 assists through 27 games, and ranks in the top-ten among defensemen with 18 points. Now in his tenth season in the NHL, he continues to be one of the more underrated players in the league. Since the injury to Weber, Petry put up 52 points, which puts his production alongside top defensive players like St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo and Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Related: Canadiens Needed Weber to Return
Stepping up Defensively
The 30-year-old defenseman is known for his offensive skills, but what has stuck out this season is his defensive play. Last season he was thrust into the Canadiens’ top defensive pairing and this year he has blossomed into a full two-way defensive player. That role carried into the first two months of the 2018-19 season, where he has shown a willingness to sacrifice his body at every opportunity. He continues to be the team’s unsung hero, leading the roster with 61 hits to go along with 39 blocked shots.
Head coach Claude Julien knows what his defenseman’s value is, and had this to say about him following a loss to the Washington Capitals:
“He’s been like that for over a year. Especially this year, he’s been good for us from the get-go. Whether he’s had a couple of games where it might have been a little tougher, he’s been really good for us and thank goodness for that because Shea’s absence has definitely put us in a tough spot.”- Sportsnet
Petry’s main focus during the off-season was on increasing his stamina and shoring up his defensive abilities. Despite being a minus-eight, it looks like the hard work has paid off. He is the league’s seventh-most utilized defenseman and is continually showing his effectiveness. A big reason for this is that he has an extremely high hockey IQ. He does so many good things in a game that some of it does not make it onto the scoresheet. Whether it’s his first pass out of the defensive zone or taking a hit to make a play, Petry is an extremely versatile player who is always thinking of the next play.
Now with Weber Back
With Weber’s return to the lineup, Petry logged 22:53 of ice time, two minutes fewer than his season average. He was also dropped to the second defensive pairing, which should help manage his ice time after averaging a career-high TOI. In fact, the move to the second pairing should help him focus on what makes his game special, his offensive abilities. While his numbers took a small dip in Weber’s absence, his teammates and coaches found a new appreciation for him. The ability to change his style of play and to go out each night and be asked to shut down the top offensive players in the league was extremely impressive.
Without Weber, the demand that was asked out of Petry was at an all-time high. Any time there was a crucial defensive face-off or a key play in the game, No. 26 would hop over the boards. With Weber back in the lineup, the few extra minutes of rest every night should help Petry as the long-grueling season continues. Petry is on pace for a career year, but most importantly though, is that with Weber’s return, the defensive burdens will soften up. This should create more scoring opportunities for Petry, and the Canadiens should benefit greatly as a result.