Banged up blueline opens door for Canadiens’ Pateryn

Greg Pateryn is getting another chance to cement his place in Montreal’s lineup when the Canadiens visit the Buffalo Sabres Friday. Injuries to some of the team's defencemen have given the 25-year-old an opportunity to prove his worth.

BROSSARD, Que. — Greg Pateryn is getting another chance to cement his place in Montreal’s lineup when the Canadiens visit the Buffalo Sabres Friday.

Defenceman Jeff Petry was placed on injured reserve Thursday. A lower-body injury he suffered in the third period of Sunday’s 2-1 shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes kept him from Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he’s now been ruled out of Montreal’s next three games.

“How long he’s going to be out, who knows? There’s not one athlete that reacts the same way regarding treatment they’re going to have,” said head coach Michel Therrien after Thursday’s practice.

Defenceman Nathan Beaulieu will also require some treatment after a blocked shot in the second period of Tuesday’s game hobbled him.

Beaulieu is traveling with the team to Buffalo but will not play against the Sabres.

Enter defenceman Pateryn, who will try to help the Canadiens win their fourth consecutive game.

It’s been a trying season for the 25-year-old Michigan native who’s been made a healthy scratch for all but 11 of his team’s 55 games. His development has been stalled by the team’s depth on defence and by management’s unwillingness to send him to the AHL for fear of losing him on waivers.

It was understandable that Pateryn sat out of Montreal’s first 17 games. The team was healthy and firing on all cylinders, accumulating the NHL’s best record over that stretch. But dressing him in just four of their last 30 games, as they sunk down to 10th place in the Eastern Conference, was confounding.

“He’s doing a lot of good things, but we figure we got defenceman who are ahead of him,” said Therrien. “Now he’s got an opportunity to play. It’s up to the players to take their opportunity — that’s the way we see it.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this hard for Pateryn to prove himself this season, especially not after paying his dues in the minors for three years prior to making good on his first real chance with the Canadiens last season.

He impressed Montreal’s brass over the course of his 17-game NHL audition in the opening months of 2015. He reinforced that impression with a strong showing in seven post-season contests, clearing the defensive zone efficiently, pushing the play offensively (he had three assists and led Canadiens defencemen with a 56 per cent Corsi For rating), effectively calculating the risk in throwing his 220-pound frame around.

But in being used so sporadically this season, Pateryn has struggled to find the balance that had him trending up last spring.

“When you don’t play for a while, your timing’s not really there,” he said Thursday.

Resisting the temptation to prove himself by wandering outside comfortable boundaries has been another challenge Pateryn has struggled to overcome. It was on Jan. 9 that he failed on that front, costing his team a goal against by leaving his position to throw a big hit.

Pateryn hasn’t played in a game since.

It’s tough to stay upbeat when one mistake proves to be so costly.

“You can look at it negatively and you can take all your energy and all the emotion and just let it go to waste,” said Pateryn. “But if you stay positive and stick with it, you can make something of it.”

That attitude hasn’t gone unnoticed by Therrien and his assistants; it just hasn’t been rewarded recently.

Now that injuries have paved the way for Pateryn’s return, his path to seizing a role has been outlined.

“A lot of time young kids, they go on the ice and they just gotta play,” said Therrien “They can’t go out there and play the game just to survive for one shift and make sure they got another shift. We want them to play and to be natural.”