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Pettersson Looking Like Petry’s Perfect Partner

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Jeff Petry

CRANBERRY — It’s not as if the Pittsburgh Penguins had a lot of options.

Not a lot of logical ones, at least.

When they acquired Jeff Petry from Montreal this summer, it only made sense to give him a partner — ideally, a left-handed one — who plays a defense-oriented game, to allow Petry to take full advantage of his offensive abilities.

It couldn’t be Brian Dumoulin, since he has been penciled in alongside Kris Letang on the No. 1 pairing for a number of years.

Ty Smith’s game certainly wouldn’t be an ideal complement to Petry’s. Same with that of P.O Joseph. Mark Friedman, maybe? He’s a righty, and giving him steady work on the second pairing would be a bit of a stretch.

And so it was that, pretty much by default, Marcus Pettersson was the obvious choice to deploy with Petry.

It’s a bit early to reach any conclusions — the Pittsburgh Penguins still have to play an exhibition game against Buffalo Friday at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena before getting into the games that count — but Petry and Pettersson seem to be forming a pretty effective partnership.

“He’s been an easy guy to play with,” Petry said. “He’s been here. He knows the system. … I’m bouncing a lot of questions off him, and he’s got the answers.”

Pettersson’s previous partner was John Marino, who was traded to New Jersey a few months ago, and Pettersson feels they meshed reasonably well.

“We were on the same page, in a lot of ways,” he said. “We thought similarly a lot out there.”

Marino, though, struggled at times after an outstanding rookie season in 2019-20. And even in the best of times, he was not inclined to aggressively get involved in the offense.

That means that Pettersson’s ability to cover for a partner who wants to, say, join a rush, went largely unused.

That won’t be the case with Petry, who appreciates that being paired with Pettersson will make it possible for him to take some offensive chances, much the way Dumoulin gives Letang that freedom.

“He’s got such an offensive upside,” Pettersson said. “It’s good for me to cover when he goes. … Playing with each other, I can tell when he’s jumping up on the rush and I can cover for him.”

Petry averaged 12 goals for four consecutive seasons before slipping to six in 2021-22. Working with Pettersson should allow him to take a run at getting back into double-figures.

“I’ve always had more success with a guy who’s a strong defensive player,” he said.

Petry also knows what it’s like to have a partner whose style is too similar to his own.

“It was a bit difficult,” he said. “You’re trying to get up in the play, he’s getting up in the play. Then, it’s both of us caught up.”

The parallel isn’t perfect, but that sounds like something the Pittsburgh Penguins tried last season, when Mike Matheson spent some time on Letang’s left. Having two guys with strong offensive games work together makes it difficult for either to produce to his potential, because someone has to focus on playing in the defensive end.

That won’t be an issue with Pettersson and Petry, and the pairing should continue to improve as they get more familiar and comfortable with each other.

“It’s been a good fit in the preseason,” Pettersson said. “And every practice that we get together, it gets better.”

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