Much like the rest of the team, Jeff Petry is struggling mightily so far this season. He’s not the shadow of his old self. Not defensively, and certainly not offensively. Yet it seems like not too long ago, we were preaching for Petry to go to the Olympics. So what the heck happened? What can turn a player around from being a key piece of a defensive core, referred to by his coach as one of his four Clydesdales, to a guy who doesn’t produce and makes more mistakes than ever in his career, or so it seems?
We’ve read Chantal Machabee of RDS, several days ago, stating that Petry was playing injured. It could very well be a factor but we don’t know the extent of this or those injuries. There are things that we know for sure so here are the key contributing factors, in my humble opinion, for Petry’s major drop in quality of play so far this season:
1- Loss of Weber
While some people have been claiming long and hard that Petry was the team’s true number one defenseman, they never took into account that the coaching staff was giving the toughest assignments to Shea Weber. Those people saw the smooth skating, points producing Petry and thought that he had surpassed Weber as a player, he who was slowing down and making more mistakes. They never acknowledged that the fact that Weber was playing against the top lines, it freed Petry a bit, allowing him to often face lesser opposition.
With Weber gone, this burden now falls solely on the American defenseman and everyone is realizing the impact of Weber being out has on Petry and on the team. Sometimes, we don’t realize what we had until it’s gone and this is one of those cases. The Edmonton Oilers played Petry as a number one and it didn’t work out. When he came to Montreal, it was to be second to P.K. Subban and when Bergevin improved by getting Weber, Petry was still playing behind him. And that’s when he had success.
2- Edmundson injury
There is no denying of the impact Joel Edmundson had on Petry. The chemistry didn’t take long to develop between the two men as Edmundson’s defensive style and qualities were a great complement to Petry’s offensive flair and his odd bad turnovers. A career minus-117 player, Petry had a career-best plus-six last season paired with the former Blues defenseman.
So Edmundson being out to injury so far this season is a big factor in Petry’s performance, no doubt. Thankfully, this is temporary as Edmundson is currently skating and is scheduled to resume practice – in a non-contact jersey – with the team on Saturday. We should see a bit of an improvement when the two men return together.
3- Price effect
The loss of Carey Price affects the whole team, no doubt about it, and that includes Petry. It’s not only the fact that Price is one of the NHL’s best at stopping pucks as it goes well beyond that. Yes, making saves will help covering for a defenseman’s odd mistakes, no doubt, but there is so much more to the All-Star goaltender’s game.
Price is a master at rebound control. He smothers most pucks and stops the play and when he can’t, he directs the rebounds along the boards for the most part, in lower-danger areas. This helps greatly as defensemen don’t have to worry as much about checking for second and third scoring chances. Further, Price is one of the league’s best at playing the puck, being like a third defenseman and making outlet passes. Instead of retrieving the puck behind the net, defensemen can peel to the corners and give Price a target for a pass instead. This helps relieve the pressure on them by not having a guy in their face, causing turnovers.
4- Short break
I agree wholeheartedly with former Habs’ Dale Weise when he talks about the short break being a key factor not only for Petry. It is particularly true for veteran players in their 30’s, as the body takes longer to heal and rest. The Canadiens had a long playoffs’ run and played well into July this year. Yet, they were back training days after and on the ice for training camp only a few weeks after the season ended for the Habs.
Fatigue is not only physical, as Petry also looks emotionally drained. He’s a fierce competitor of course, and he wants to win. He expects a lot from himself and from his teammates. With his decision-making not always being on point right now and with his own and the team’s lack of success, we have seen his frustration level going up as he was caught on camera having outbursts a couple of times.
Head coach Dominique Ducharme came under some heat after a video showed Petry yell at the bench last week. The video doesn’t show who he was yelling at but some jumped to the conclusion that it was at Ducharme. The coach had this to say when asked about his relationship with his defenseman:
“He’s one of the players with whom I communicate the most with. With Weber and Perry gone, he’s part of the leadership group in the dressing room. He’s part of that core. He’s a guy with whom I like to work. Would he like to do better? Of course. It’s up to us to help him find his game.”
Some people are complaining that he is just entering the first of a four-year contract extension with a $6.25 million cap hit. Let me remind everyone that Petry has been producing 40 points or more for the past four seasons in a bargain deal of $5.5 million per season. Adding $750,000 per season is yet another bargain for Petry, who could have easily fetched a lot more on the open market. We could compare his contract and production to other defensemen in the NHL and it would support what I’m saying here.
So to those fans out there requesting for the Canadiens to trade Petry, please take a deep breath and get some fresh air. Petry didn’t forget how to play hockey and his talent is still the same. With the lack of quality depth on the right side of the Habs’ defense, he’s the only quality NHL caliber right-handed defenseman anywhere near the team. The next closest might be Logan Mailloux and he’s not even playing hockey right now.
To borrow Carey Price’s terminology: Chill. Jeff Petry is not only a quality defenseman, he’s a quality individual and a great leader. Things will turn around for him and the same can be said about the Canadiens. Trading for a top-4 right-handed defenseman able to take pressure away from Petry would go a long way to accelerate this process.