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Fitting right in

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – There are many reasons why Jeff Petry was so highly sought after at the trade deadline. Fortunately, the Canadiens managed to secure his services at just the right time.

After getting off to a slow start offensively in La Belle Province, the 27-year-old rearguard is now in the midst of the longest point-streak of his NHL career, collecting four goals and seven points in his last six games. That’s only one game shy of the season-high seven-game point streak Max Pacioretty set back in early January when he registered seven goals and 10 points during that span.

“I haven’t changed anything in my game lately. I’m just a little bit more aggressive up ice. It’s something that the coaching staff wanted to see, not only from me, but from the rest of the defensemen, too. They always want to get a fourth man on the attack,” offered Petry, who was held off the scoresheet in his first 12 games with the CH, but hasn’t been stymied since. “That goes for backing off opposing defensemen or just getting the puck and making a play with it. The main thing is always getting that fourth man going on the rush.”

It would seem that the smooth-skating rearguard is the right man for the job. There’s no mistaking just how offensive-minded the Ann Arbor, MI native has been in recent games, making every effort to chip in whenever and wherever possible up front. In Petry’s mind, the spike in point production has simply been a question of acclimating himself to his new surroundings and new systems.

“The first 10 games or so, you’re still trying to get a feel for the guys around you and how guys play. Then, as you see what the team and the coaching staff expects out of you, you feel more and more comfortable,” explained Petry, who has factored in on 35 percent of the Canadiens’ goals over the last six games. “I think that first 10 games was about feeling out my role here. As each game has gone on, I’ve felt more and more comfortable and confident, too.”

There’s no question about that. The five-year NHL veteran has steadily become a go-to guy for head coach Michel Therrien, logging just over 22 minutes of ice time per game. That ranks him third on the team in that particular category behind both P.K. Subban (26:10) and Andrei Markov (24:52).

“We’ve seen significant changes since he’s joined the team. He’s a lot more comfortable with our playing style. It’s become second nature for him. He’s gaining confidence. He’s a player that we want to see out there. We’ve given him some good responsibilities. There are a lot of good qualities that I appreciate in his game,” praised Therrien, before expanding upon Petry’s budding partnership with fellow defender Alexei Emelin that dates back to March 21. “I like the pairing with Emelin. They’re both physical, they skate well, they’ve got good sticks and they’re capable of supporting the rush.”

Offense, however, wasn’t necessarily a priority for the former Michigan State Spartan during his early days in Edmonton. Circumstances simply dictated that Petry focus primarily on keeping the opposition at bay.

“When I started my career in the NHL, I was playing against the other team’s top lines so I really had to work on my defensive game. I think the offensive side got pushed back a bit,” mentioned Petry, who has seven goals and 22 points in 77 games between Edmonton and Montreal during the 2014-15 campaign, three points shy of matching his career-high set in 2011-12. “Now that I’ve played and gotten the experience with the defensive game, if there’s a play to make on offense, I’m ready to make it.”

That’s got to be music to Therrien’s ears as the Canadiens get set to wrap up their regular season calendar on Saturday night in Toronto and begin postseason play in less than a week. In Petry’s case, it will be his first taste of NHL playoff action.

“I think this is what everybody in the League strives for, to make the playoffs. Just to be my first experience, I’m really excited for it. I think it’s a great opportunity,” offered Petry, whose last postseason experience dates back to 2010-11 as a member of the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons. “I’m glad that I’ve been given this chance, especially to get it for this team with all the history that they have and the way the Bell Centre is come playoffs.”

That being said, you really do get the sense that Petry will make the most of his good fortune.

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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