VANCOUVER — Carey Price was named the first star in the Canadiens’ 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night at Rogers Arena and Jonathan Drouin scored the winning goal on the power play at 17:16 of the third period.
But the unsung hero of this victory was defenceman Jeff Petry.
He has been that for much of this season.
Petry logged a game-high 27:49 of ice time — including 2:30 on the power play and 3:47 short-handed — picked up an assist and was plus-1.
Twenty games into the season, the Canadiens have an 11-6-3 record and are holding down a playoff spot without having No. 1 defenceman and captain Shea Weber play a single game. Those are huge Man Mountain skates to fill, but Petry has fit nicely into them.
Petry’s assist on Tomas Tatar’s goal Saturday night gives him 1-14-15 totals this season, ranking him in the top 10 in points among NHL defencemen. Petry is only minus-4 while playing mostly against the other team’s top line — something Weber would normally handle.
When asked after Saturday’s victory what he’s most proud about his game this season, Petry said: “I guess just taking more pride in the defensive side of things. The points have come, just not being reckless jumping in. You’re going to get your points by making a good breakout pass and stuff like that. So just taking pride defensively and focusing on shutting down top lines and making sure that we don’t give them a whole lot throughout the course of the game.”
Nobody has had a closer look at Petry than his defence partner Jordie Benn, who logged 23:55 of ice time against the Canucks.
“Obviously, I’m more defensive than he is and it’s nice that I can give him the puck and he can do his thing with it,” Benn said after the game. “He’s a phenomenal skater, so it’s entertaining to watch after you give it to him being out on the ice there with him.”
Tatar opened the scoring at 8:07 of the second period when he snuck in behind the Canucks’ defence and Petry spotted him from deep in his own zone. Actually, Petry heard Tatar calling for the puck — you could hear him all the way up in the press box.
“I came around the net and I heard,” Petry said. “I thought their D, as soon as he yelled, was going to step in. I think he pivoted the other way and gave a lane to move it up. So it was good on him to yell and it definitely got my attention.”
It was a perfect pass, with Tatar going in alone on a breakaway and beating goalie Jacob Markstrom high to the glove side. Andrew Shaw scored the other goal for the Canadiens, giving him five in the last five games while playing on a line with Max Domi and Drouin. Domi assisted on Shaw’s goal to extend his point streak to nine games, while Shaw and Drouin both have five-game streaks.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi doesn’t play on Shaw’s line, but the veteran has played a key role in the rookie’s success as an 18-year-old in the NHL.
“I think the biggest thing is that he’s a great guy,” Kotkaniemi said about Shaw after the game. “He’s helping me every day. He’s fun to be with. He’s a great guy on the ice, but I think the biggest thing happens in the locker room. He’s taking care of everything.”
The Canadiens got the late power play that resulted in Drouin’s goal after Kotkaniemi was hit hard into the boards by Canucks defenceman Michael Del Zotto, who was called for interference.
“That was a surprise,” Kotkaniemi said about the hit. “I just tried to play the puck to the blue line and the guy came a little bit late. I think that was the right call there.”
This was a solid all-around game by the Canadiens to end their Western Canada road trip after getting blown out 6-2 Tuesday in Edmonton and then winning 3-2 Thursday in Calgary when Price stole two points by making 43 saves.
“Tonight, it was important for us to really play on our toes,” coach Claude Julien said. “Really play with speed, aggressiveness and use our assets to our advantage, and I thought our guys did a pretty good job of that tonight. They really skated well. I thought we closed quickly. Our backcheck was good. So this was a good game. This is two teams that have good skaters, good skill, and I thought it was a really good game from start to finish. I like the way we bounced back tonight with, to me, a pretty solid 60-minute effort and four out of six points out West is something I’d take any time.”
Petry played a big role in that.