Jeff Petry came into the 2013 season considered a top pairing defenceman for the Edmonton Oilers and arguably the top blue-liner on the roster.
Things haven’t exactly started that way and he has struggled a little out of the gate, trying to find the form that made him the Oilers most effective blue-liner in the second half of last season.
He has been plagued by uncharacteristic turnovers and inconsistency in the early going and has not shown the confidence in his game that made him the Oilers ice time leader last year.
It seems as though a trip out on the road, however, has done him some good and the Petry that everyone expected to show up in January is starting to come around. The numbers on the year won’t wow you, he has five points in 22 games, but the thing that jumps out is that all five points have come in the last five games, all on the current road trip. He has also been a +2 in those five games. Something about the road appears to be the cure to what ails him.
Last season, he paired with Ladislav Smid to form an effective shutdown duo in the second half of the season and played against the other team’s top line. He also contributed offensively, leading the Oilers D-men in scoring with 25 points on the year.
This season, he and Smid once again started in that role. Both did not have the early success from the previous year and have been less than effective in their shutdown role, showing mistakes not seen last season. They were even separated for a handful of games by Ralph Krueger in an attempt to shake things up.
Petry has been far from the Oilers weakest defencemen, the group as a whole has far too many issues for that, however, much more was expected of him after a breakout 2012.
The inconsistencies in his play have been masked to a certain degree, though, by Justin Schultz and Nick Schultz who have emerged as the team’s top pair so far. Petry, as well as the defense as a whole, have been overshadowed to an extent by the arrival of Justin Schultz in particular. Schultz has been as good as advertised and then some, and has been the Oilers top defencemen from day one and has led the group in scoring and ice time by a wide margin.
For the Oilers to be successful and compete for a playoff spot, they will need for both Petry and Smid to regain their form from last season and be a top calibre pairing again. If they can do that, combined with the partnership of Justin and Nick Schultz, it would give the Oilers an effective top four. They may not be in the league’s upper echelon still, but they will be much improved and a big factor for the Oilers to compete for the playoffs.
If the last five games have been any indication, there is hope ahead. Petry and Smid have been re-united on the road trip and have been playing much better. Petry especially has upped his offensive game, and is also been much better moving the puck out of the Oilers zone. He possesses elite skating ability and when on, he makes an excellent first pass out of the zone.
He is the type of defenceman that has all the tools to be an elite shutdown defender and log big time minutes. Following his impressive second half of 2011-12, the Oilers were hoping he would take the next step in 2013 towards being that type of player for them. Whether it has been rust from the lockout or other mental or physical issues, he has not looked the part in early 2013. The Oilers are hoping the road trip so far is a sign of things to come, and if Petry regains his form it will go a long way in improving the Oilers defense as a whole.