Brossard, QUEBEC — When Karl Alzner signed a five-year, $23.1 million contract to play with the Montreal Canadiens we immediately penciled him into a defence pairing with Jeff Petry.
We figured it would make for the smoothest transition for Alzner, who skated regularly alongside John Carlson over the last number of years with the Washington Capitals. Carlson and Petry are both agile, right-handed puck-movers who have the ability to drive the offence and benefit from having a defensive anchor as a partner to cover them.
And in fairness, it’s worth mentioning that part of the reason we had Alzner matched up with Petry on the first day of July was because we assumed it was a formality that Andrei Markov would return to play alongside Shea Weber on the Canadiens’ first pairing. It wasn’t much of a leap to assume the marquee free-agent wasn’t signed to a big-money contract to play on the team’s bottom pair.
But even when Markov spurned Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin’s final offer in order to return to Russia after spending the last 16 seasons in the NHL, placing Alzner with Petry still felt like a likely combination.
Canadiens coach Claude Julien clearly saw the logic in it, putting both players together for the opening practice of the team’s training camp on Friday.
“There’s no doubt there’s something there we want to see, and it could be a good fit,” said Julien. “There’s one of them that’s extremely proud about his defensive game and he feels it’s his strength, and that’s Karl. He defends well, he’s always played against top lines and does a great job there. Not to say he can’t have some offence, but the other guy is a guy who likes to skate the puck up the ice, likes to support the attack, and sometimes those make good combinations.
“We’re not trying to hide anything by saying we think it could be a good match because we hope it can be. But for me, after one day, it’s too early to start making some commitments or promises. We’re going to really check it out closely and see what comes out of it.”
For what it’s worth, both players believe something good will come out of it. They also both acknowledged on Friday that an essential part of making that happen will be forming chemistry early.
You have to think sharing a few on-ice sessions, as Petry admitted he and Alzner did in the lead up to training camp, helped accelerate that process. They’ve already learned a bit about each other and feel they can borrow from one another, too.
“He’s a calming influence back there,” said Petry. “He communicates well, plays the rushes well. There’s parts of his game I’d like to learn from.”
Petry will have ample time to pick Alzner’s brain both on and off the ice, as the two will be seated side-by-side in the Canadiens’ dressing room this season.
Alzner’s looking forward to getting to know his new partner better and admitted he thought things might play out this way for the two of them out of the gate.
“I would’ve thought there was a chance [of playing together] for sure,” he said. “You always want to come in and say, ‘I’m going to play with the best guys.’ That’s the best thing for you.
“But I really don’t know how it’s going to break down. The season could go on and we might have to mix things up and split everybody up. So it just really depends. But I had my eye on playing with him mainly from what I heard from other people. But I didn’t really know for sure if the styles would match up in the coaches’ eyes. He was one of the guys I had a feeling about.”
Whether it’s with Petry or with someone else, one of the things Alzner would like to do is show he has better offensive instincts than most would give him credit for. He’s never had more than 21 points in any of his nine previous NHL seasons, but he believes he can produce if given the opportunity.
“I think after a while in one spot you don’t get stuck in a mould, but that’s what’s really expected of you; to day-in, day-out do this specific thing,” he said of becoming known as a defensive defenceman. “It’s nice that I can maybe deviate from that a little bit, in a good way, hopefully.”