The Pittsburgh Penguins had a health scare with Kris Letang, and a few bumps and bruises along the way — but outside of not having fourth line center Teddy Blueger for the start of the season — it’s been an unusually smooth start to the season for the Pens. That ended on Saturday, when defenseman Jeff Petry was injured. He’ll be out now for at least about a month after going to long term injury reserve, and suddenly the Pens have their first meaningful injury absence to overcome.
Petry’s role on the Penguins has been increasingly important in his first year with the team, and he had seemed to find his stride and settle in with Marcus Pettersson as of late. Those two formed what has been by far Pittsburgh’s most successful regular pairing of the season, according to expected goal shares.
Petry has done not just a little bit of everything — but a lot of everything for the Pens so far this season. In 28 games, Petry has averaged 22:20 in ice time this season. He is the only defender on the team to play more than a minute per game on the power play (2:39) and short handed (1:58). Petry leads Pittsburgh defenders in hits (89), and is second among the team’s blueliners in blocked shots (54) and takeaways (14), in addition to being tied for the lead in goals (3) and points (12) from defenders this season.
His absence from the lineup will be a huge one for the team to have to cover over in the coming weeks. It also goes to show the extreme good fortune that Letang was able to recover so quickly from the stroke and return to the lineup, things would be looking even bleaker without not only both of the Pens’ top two right handed shot defenders, but just their two most capable and top defensemen period.
Recently, Mike Sullivan talked about Petry stepping up while Letang was down to Danny Shirey.
“I think Jeff’s played well,” the coach said last week. “He’s a real good player, he’s a great athlete, he’s good on both sides of the puck....He’s a guy that can handle a lot of minutes, and I think that’s because of his athleticism.”
Finding new ways to get through those minutes will be a major challenge for Sullivan moving forward. It has been a challenge to find the best fit for Letang these days, with Dumoulin in decline Joseph in ascendancy and Pettersson never really meshing stylistically with Letang.
Pittsburgh was able to find a way to play a great defensive game in a 2-1 win on Monday against Dallas without Petry. They will need similar team-based efforts to continue to have success without one of their best and most veteran and versatile defenders for a while to come.