With the absence of Shea Weber this season from the Montreal Canadiens’ blue line, the captain’s shoes must be filled. It is most likely that this will happen by committee, as nobody on this current roster brings all the elements that make up Weber’s game. The defensive unit will look similar, but with the additions of David Savard and Chris Wideman. The three that will need to step up their play and assume more responsibility are Jeff Petry, David Savard, and Ben Chiarot.
The Canadiens defence should look something like this:
Joel Edmundson – Jeff Petry
Alexander Romanov – David Savard
Ben Chiarot – Chris Wideman
It just so happens that the three players mentioned above are projected to play on separate lines. This could bode well for a team that may have to rely on shutting teams down more often than not to win hockey games. Carey Price is a mystery at this point in his career, after having a down regular season but amazing playoff performance.
Of the defencemen on the roster, Petry will have to be the one to continue to contribute offensively in Weber’s absence, both on the power play and 5-on-5. David Savard joins this Canadiens team after winning a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning and looks to add a defensive prowess that he has brought all throughout his career. Chiarot is a player that needs to bounce back, and projected to be on the 3rd defensive pairing should help with not being overly exposed to the opposing top lines and being outmatched.
Don’t get me wrong, Petry has played very well over the past four seasons after seemingly breaking out later in his career than most do. It took him until age 30 and his fourth year with the Canadiens to reach the 40-point mark, and has exceeded that every year since, despite two shortened seasons. All four of those years Petry has scored more than 10 goals. This will have to continue as a threat on the back end to score is hard to find. Weber has also been known to net many goals, and they will miss that in 2021-22.
After bolstering their offence with the additions of Mike Hoffman and Christian Dvorak, the emergence of Cole Caufield, and the return of Jonathan Drouin, this should help in seeing production rise even more for the veteran defenceman Petry. Playing top power play minutes and Hoffman sliding in on the top unit, the sniper will be an easy target for Petry to feed. Hoping that Tyler Toffoli can repeat some of his goal scoring success and Caufield can continue to develop into a scoring forward, there seems like endless opportunities for Petry to succeed offensively this season.
As a veteran presence in the locker room and on the ice, Petry will also be looked to as a leader and a guy to help with the development of Romanov. Expect a big season from Petry, and a much needed one at that if the Canadiens hope to stay relevant in a very tough top-heavy Atlantic Division.
Signed in free agency this summer to take over a spot on the right side of the defence, Savard is a very solid shutdown defender for a fair price at $3.5m average annual value (AAV). With a great addition to the back end, Savard should be a great partner for a young Romanov while he’s still learning and growing in the NHL.
Savard is a force in the defensive zone, between blocking shot and making hits. All done while managing to keep his penalty minutes lower than expected for how physical he is. In 611 games over a 10 year career thus far, Savard has blocked 978 shots, with a personal best coming in 2019-20 of 163. With an aging Price who nobody knows which version of him will show up this season, the less shots that get through, the better. He has made 1154 hits in his career. This allows him to have more time to make plays out of the defensive zone because forwards would be hesitant to go into corners against the big man.
Savard will be critical to the success of the Canadiens, through the penalty kill and shutting down the opposing top players night in and night out. He has to bring what he has brought every year in his career, and maybe more to help the team get to where they need to be. If the Canadiens can get there, Savard will be a player to look to come playoffs, with 57 career games played in the postseason.
Chiarot is a player that needs to bounce back in a big way. Projected to play down in the lineup, this could help with doing that and returning to the player he was in his first year with the Canadiens in 2019-20. That year he posted a career high in points with 21 and increased his ATOI by 4:31. This carried over from his final season with the Winnipeg Jets, as his stats were very similar and it was the best couple seasons thus far in his eight year NHL career.
Chiarot needs to bounce back from a season where he didn’t play up to par with previous years. He had the worst plus/minus in his career at -16 and recorded 51 giveaways in just 41 games. He played a larger role last season, skating for 21:47 ATOI per game, but a sweet spot would be just under the 20:00 mark. This is doable and we may see it happen with the progression of Romanov, pushing Chiarot down to the third pairing. He will still find penalty killing time every game, but he won’t be responsible for covering top line guys.
This year will be a tough one for the Canadiens’ defence, playing in possibly the most explosive offensive division in the NHL. They will have to shut down the likes of Toronto, Tampa Bay, Florida, Boston, and a pesky team on the rise in Ottawa who were the only team that wasn’t shut out last season. If Petry, Savard, Chiarot, and the rest of the group step up and play their part, things could fall perfectly into place once again. As Canadiens fans especially know, anything can happen and it’s a new season once playoffs start.Embed from Getty Images