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Stu Cowan: Jeff Petry has become an iron man on Canadiens' blue line

Veteran defenceman is one of only four Habs to play in every game this season and he also leads the team in ice time.

Montreal Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry patrols the bluel ine during first period against the Winnipeg Jets in Montreal on April 8, 2021.

The Canadiens will play their final game of this crazy, condensed 56-game NHL season Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers at the Bell Centre (5 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

This season has been an endurance test for the Canadiens with the final 25 games being played over 44 days. Only four Canadiens have been able to play in all 55 games so far — Jeff Petry, Joel Edmundson, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

“It is difficult the schedule that we had,” Petry said after the Canadiens practised Tuesday morning at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard. “Just making sure that you’re recovering properly. I’ve been spending a lot more time in the cold tub than I would in years past. For me, sleep is a big thing. Just trying to do all those little things to make sure that I’m feeling the best I can going into each game.”

Petry has not missed a game during the last four seasons, becoming an iron man on the blue line for the Canadiens. He leads the team this season with an average of 22:44 of ice time per game and his 1,250 minutes of total ice time are 148 more than Edmundson, who ranks second. With 12-30-42 totals, Petry ranked third among NHL defencemen in goals through Monday’s games and ranked seventh in points.

Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme said that when the season started on Jan. 13 it was hard to know just how demanding this unique schedule would be on the players. The Canadiens went nine days without playing a game at the end of March when they were shut down by the NHL after Joël Armia tested positive for COVID-19. That made the schedule even more condensed once they returned to action and the injuries started to pile up.

Carey Price (concussion), Brendan Gallagher (fractured thumb), Shea Weber (upper body) and Phillip Danault (concussion) all remain on the injured list, but are expected to be ready to play when the playoffs start next week. Paul Byron and Tomas Tatar recently returned from lower-body injuries.

“Going through that COVID situation and the schedule, we knew that we were going into a storm,” Ducharme said. “The storm just got stronger with the number of guys that we lost (to injuries). So we knew it would be a difficult time going through that stretch. So to see a guy like Petey playing every game, I think it shows he’s taking care of himself, he’s a good athlete. You always need luck to avoid injury, so it’s nice to see a guy like that being able to play every night.”

Petry is 33, which makes his endurance this season even more impressive than his three teammates who also played every game. Edmundson is 27, Suzuki is 21 and Kotkaniemi is 20. Petry is a super-fit athlete, which is one of the reasons why GM Marc Bergevin was willing to give him to a four-year, US$25-million contract extension in September that runs through the 2024-25 season.

Montreal Canadiens’ Jeff Petry loses his balance during overtime against the Edmonton Oilers in Montreal on May 10, 2021.
Montreal Canadiens’ Jeff Petry loses his balance during overtime against the Edmonton Oilers in Montreal on May 10, 2021. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

Bergevin’s decision to acquire Edmundson from the Carolina Hurricanes in September in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick and then sign him to a four-year, US$14-million contract was also a good move. Edmundson has been Steady Eddie on the blue line for the Canadiens with 3-10-13 totals and his plus-28 differential is the fourth-best in the NHL. Petry and Edmundson have been partners for most of the season.

“(Steady) is the key word,” Ducharme said about Edmundson. “To really appreciate what he brings you need to see him every game. He’s copy and paste. He’s pretty consistent. He’s playing against top players on the other side. I know plus/minus at times can be a tricky number, but when you look down and to be playing against really good players every night and having those numbers, it’s a sign that he’s doing a solid job and he’s really consistent.”

Petry noted how strong Edmundson is in the defensive zone — “which is where it all begins” — and added that he’s able to break out of the zone, join the rush and make smart decisions with the puck at the offensive blue line to keep the play in the offensive zone.

Ducharme said he’s planning to give his players a couple of days off after Wednesday’s game before they start preparing for the playoffs, which will start next week against the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Winnipeg Jets.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had two consecutive practice days,” the coach said. “It will be a key part of our preparation.”

Petry is really looking forward to the two days off after Wednesday’s game.

“It’s obviously been a difficult stretch here with the amount of games in the short periods of time,” he said. “It’s our job to fight through that. I think it’s going to be beneficial here in the next couple of days for everyone to reset mentally, physically, and make sure that we’re prepared to start the playoffs.”

The Canadiens will be counting on Petry.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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