Petry’s importance to Canadiens brought to forefront in OT loss

Lars Eller scored the winning goal in overtime and the Washington Capitals defeated the Montreal Canadiens.

MONTREAL — Jeff Petry snuck down by the goal mouth, fished the puck out of a scrum and pushed it over Pheonix Copley’s pad for his second goal of the season and the Canadiens’ third goal of what turned out to be a 5-4 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals on Monday.

It was a subtle play — not unlike many others Petry made — that was nearly lost in the shuffle of a game that featured highlight-reel goals, 10-bell saves and some good, old-fashioned nastiness. And that’s all too familiar, really.

The fact is, Petry’s play hasn’t garnered the attention it deserves.

Sure, we noted his influence on Montreal’s impressive start to the season in Sunday’s quarter-mark review, but there hasn’t been much ink spilled on it otherwise. And it would be a shame not to delve further into it on a night where he played close to 34 minutes and helped give the Canadiens a chance at their second win of this young season over the defending Stanley Cup champions.

“I had my legs tonight,” Petry said.

It showed on almost every one of his 36 shifts — many of them spent defending against the great Alex Ovechkin, who still managed to find his way onto the score sheet. He was on his toes, pushing the pace — it was frenetic for most of the game — and contributing at both ends of the ice.

Petry’s play didn’t win the Canadiens the game, but it was a big factor in allowing them to earn a valuable point in the standings.

We won’t deny that most of the credit belongs to goaltender Carey Price, who came up with the goods at nearly every turn. Especially when he stopped Ovechkin from icing the game with two seconds remaining in regulation by throwing the right side of his body into the full weight of one of the world’s best shots.

But with Max Domi extending his point streak to 10 games and fighting defenceman Dmitry Orlov, with the Canadiens scoring three times in 83 seconds to start the second period, and with a back-and-forth and altogether wild game playing out in front of 21,911 fans, it was easy for Petry’s strong play to get lost in the shuffle.

On offence, an assist on Brendan Gallagher’s 10th goal of the season — which came just 48 seconds before he scored his own goal — helped Petry maintain his place among the NHL’s top 10 defencemen in scoring.

His two points in the game gave him 17 in 21 and tied him with Jonathan Drouin and Tomas Tatar for second in team scoring.

And on the defensive side on Monday, he had four hits to bring his season total to a team-leading 35 and added three blocked shots to get to 25 on the year.

Impressive, no doubt.

But Petry was understated in evaluating what he’s done so far when he was asked about it after Monday’s performance.

“I like the way I started the year,” he said before adding, “There’s a few games where I kind of got away from it.”

A meeting with Canadiens coach Claude Julien over last week’s three-game road trip through Western Canada helped Petry reset.

“He just wanted me to be more assertive,” Petry said. “It helped jump start my game in [a win over Vancouver Saturday] and here again tonight.”

The general resolve Petry has shown, in captain Shea Weber’s spot, has had as much to do with Montreal’s success thus far as any other factor.

“He’s been like that for over a year,” said Julien, who was referring to the fact that Weber only appeared in 26 games last season and has missed every one the Canadiens have played this year.

“There’s been ups and downs because of the fact that there’s a fatigue factor that eventually catches up to you, but I think overall he’s been pretty good. 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.”

Others have done their part, too.

Mike Reilly, who skated as Montreal’s second-most used defenceman for most of their games before being scratched for the two leading into Monday’s against the Capitals, has found a gear he previously didn’t have in his other four NHL seasons.

He scored a big goal to get Montreal on the board first in this one.

Jordie Benn, who had one of his tougher nights, has played above expectations so far. Xavier Oullet has played more good games than bad ones. And Noah Juulsen, who left Monday’s game on his sixth shift after a puck rode up his stick and struck him in the cheekbone, has been steady.

But with David Schlemko hurt for all but five games and Victor Mete struggling a bit in his sophomore year, it’s made Petry’s load an even heavier one to bear.

He’s handled it as well as possible. It’s a fact that’s been somewhat buried, failing to compete with the attention Domi has received for establishing himself as a top-line centre after spending his first three seasons on the wing in Arizona.

It’s also been in the shadow of Tatar’s impressive offensive contribution, which has come just months after flaming out with the Vegas Golden Knights and being discarded by them without much second thought in the trade that sent Max Pacioretty away from the Canadiens.

But the Canadiens are 11-6-4 and they own the NHL’s seventh-best record. Petry has had a huge hand in that and he deserves recognition for it.

“He’s really stepped up,” said Julien.

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