GLENDALE – While Tom Gilbert and Jeff Petry haven’t been a tandem for long, they clearly have a good thing going on the Canadiens’ back end.
Reunited at the trade deadline after Petry was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers, the pair has demonstrated noticeable poise and a good comfort level in a relatively short time period, which is even more astounding when you consider the fact that they’re both right-handed shots and Gilbert isn’t all that familiar with playing on the left side.
“Jeff does great job of giving me the puck right on my forehand. Sometimes, it’s just hard to adjust to the move and just get up the ice. Usually, I’m moving on the right side. But, I just guess that it eventually comes with some repetition,” offered Gilbert, who was a teammate of Petry’s in the Albertan capital during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 campaigns. “I know when he first got here, it was tough circumstances, flying in, and we’re on a tough road swing, too. He’s adjusted really well. He’s learning the system as fast as he possibly can. He’s fit in good.”
That’s high praise for a player who has just three games under his belt with the Canadiens, all of which came against tough Western Conference opponents in California who pride themselves on gritty and physical play.
“The style of play is coming to me. I think there’s still going to be some learning curve, but each game has gotten a little bit better,” mentioned Petry, who logged a season-high 26:25 of ice time in Thursday night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Kings in Los Angeles. “So far, I don’t think there’s been much adjustment for me. Gilbert has said that he’s kind of new to the left side, so it’s more for him. Every now and then, you’ll catch yourself passing in front of him and thinking he’s a lefty and his stick is on the wrong side. There are some minor adjustments for me, but I think the bigger adjustment is for Gibby going to the left.”
Whatever the case may be, the move has clearly paid immediate dividends for Gilbert, who managed to chip in offensively in a big way in the Canadiens’ most recent outing against the defending Stanley Cup champs. He’s also seen more and more playing time in recent weeks, which is a definite sign head coach Michel Therrien likes what the nine-year NHL veteran is bringing to the table on a regular basis.
“I probably feel the most comfortable I’ve felt, just going out there and adjusting to the team. Sometimes it takes a while for it to sink in, but I’m just going out there and playing,” confided Gilbert, who is averaging just over 19 minutes of ice time per game through 61 outings during the 2014-15 campaign. “[As for the goal], I don’t know what I was doing. It was just one of those things where it just opened up for me. I was actually looking to pass when I was coming around the circle. I know Max was in the slot. It just kept opening up for me. I just went in and it was just one of those things.”
The fact that his bench boss has faith in him has the 32-year-old feeling good these days. It’s shown not only in his game, but in the way he’s managed to establish such a quick bond with his new playing partner.
“This game is all about confidence. It’s so fast, and the moment you lose it, the game seems to be going faster. The more you can settle in, and the more you can slow the play down while moving the puck fast, it just makes playing a little bit easier,” explained Gilbert, who ranks second on the Canadiens with 129 blocked shots, eight back of team leader, Andrei Markov. “At this time of year, system-wise, you should know what’s going on. Now, it’s just focusing on the best ways to help your team win. You need to go out there, and depending on how many minutes you play, you need to make sure that you’re effective when you’re doing it.”
And, in Therrien’s eyes, both Gilbert and Petry are doing just that and more.
“It isn’t a perfect scenario, but they’re doing good work. Tom is capable of making that adjustment to the left side. I think there’s good chemistry between him and Petry,” offered Therrien. “Things will probably change when Emelin comes back, but right now that’s what we’re working with.”
Matt Cudzinowsk is a writer for canadiens.com.
Fighting to the finish
Post-game notebook – March 4